Boeing’s Starliner OFT-2 launch update: What’s at stake

The United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket with Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft aboard is seen as it rolls out onto the launch pad for the OFT-2 mission scheduled for May 19, 2022.

Joel Kosky | NASA

Boeing On making another attempt to reach the International Space Station with Starliner capsule Thursday, nearly two and a half years after the company’s first mission failed.

Boeing is developing its Starliner spacecraft under NASA’s Commercial Crew program, after winning nearly $5 billion in contracts to build the capsule. The company competes under the program against Elon Musk SpaceX, which has completed the development of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and is now In the fourth human spaceflight working for NASA.

Boeing’s development of Starliner has faced several hurdles over the past three years.

Its first unmanned mission in December 2019, called the Orbital Flight Test (OFT), It ended prematurely after a software malfunction caused the capsule to appear in the wrong orbit. NASA indicated earlier this year, after an investigation into the issue, that Boeing software development “was an area where we may not have had as much insight and oversight as we should have.”

Boeing attempted to launch its second orbital flight test, or OFT-2, in August, but The company has detected a problem with the thrust valve While the spacecraft was still on Earth. Thirteen of the 24 oxidizer valves controlling the Starliner’s motion in space malfunctioned after moisture at the launch site caused corrosion, and the spacecraft’s service module was replaced.

Boeing has now applied a sealant to the valves and is scheduled to make another attempt to launch OFT-2 Thursday at 6:54 p.m. ET.

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The Atlas V rocket will carry the United Launch Alliance Starliner into orbit, where it will begin a 24-hour flight before docking with the International Space Station. The mission is expected to last a few days in total before the capsule returns to Earth.

The US Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron expects conditions to be clear for launch, with possible disruption from scattered thunderstorms around Cape Canaveral in Florida. A backup launch is scheduled for Friday, but the weather is expected to get worse that day.

Boeing’s critical test

The crew access arm of Launch Complex-41 swings into position for Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft ahead of the launch of the OFT-2 mission, scheduled for May 19, 2022.

Joel Kosky | NASA

The space giant was previously seen as equally compatible with SpaceX in the race to launch NASA astronauts. However, delays in Starliner development have set Boeing steadily back, in terms of schedule and finances.

Due to the fixed-price nature of its contract with NASA, Boeing has absorbed the cost of additional work on the capsule, with the company having spent $595 million to date.

NASA took last year This rare move to reset astronauts From Starliner to SpaceX’s dragon crew. The space agency also announced last year that it intends to buy three more manned flights from SpaceX, which would put Musk on track to end its original contract with NASA with six flights before Starliner carries its first flights.

If the OFT-2 launch on Thursday is successful, Boeing will then prepare for a manned flight test that will see astronauts fly aboard the Starliner.

Boeing Vice President Mark Naby said at a pre-opening press conference that the company “will likely be ready” for a manned flight “by the end of this year.” However, the company is considering whether to redesign Aerojet RockettinValves are made on Starliner, which could lead to further delays.

Steve Stitch, NASA’s commercial crew manager, said the agency doesn’t see the redesign of the Starliner valves as a “big deal from a certification perspective.” Stitch noted that NASA would work with Boeing “to see what kind of testing would have to happen” in the event of a redesign, with an unspecified timeline “for how long it would take.”

“Personally, I would like to see the Starliner fly beyond 2030. I would like to see the Dragon fly beyond 2030. NASA has made a huge investment in these two vehicles and they are great platforms to go into low Earth orbit,” Stitch said.

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