Boeing Starliner for NASA Launch: When to Watch
For Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, NASA certainly hopes the second time around will be the charm.
Boeing is one of two companies that NASA has hired to take its astronauts to and from the International Space Station. (SpaceX is the other, with its Crew Dragon spacecraft.)
Two years ago, Boeing seemed to be on track to be the first to be ready to take on astronauts.
Pretty much all that was left was a demo flight with no astronauts on board, which launched in December 2019. Embarrassingly, things took a turn for the worse almost immediately, exposing faulty software and pointing to the issues that the aviation division of Boeing had with the 737 Max jet, which led to a pair of fatal crashes.
Not only was Starliner not ready for astronauts, it took Boeing over a year to analyze what was wrong, rewrite its software, and validate that the spacecraft would be trustworthy. Friday they should try again. Here’s what you need to know.
But time may not cooperate. Due to possible clouds and lightning, the forecast currently only gives a 50% chance of favorable conditions at the time of launch. Tory Bruno, chief executive of the United Launch Alliance, which built the Atlas 5 rocket the Starliner will fly on, said on Twitter that the conditions were windy.
There is another launch opportunity on Wednesday, although the chances of good weather are not higher.
Why was the launch delayed?
Starliner was scheduled to launch on Friday. But then events in orbit around the Earth took place.
Russia had launched a new space station module, Nauka, which successfully docked Thursday morning. But then Nauka’s thrusters inadvertently started firing again, pushing the International Space Station into a spin, spinning about one and a half times before the controllers checked it after about an hour.
The space station doesn’t appear to have survived the wear and tear of its unplanned gymnastics routine, but NASA officials wanted to take the time to make sure. Due to classified military operations at Cape Canaveral over the weekend, the next launch opportunity was Tuesday afternoon.
What will happen during the flight to the space station?
After takeoff, the spacecraft will spend approximately 24 hours in orbit before arriving at the space station on Wednesday. Docking is scheduled for 13:37. The hatch will not be open until Thursday morning.
Among the objectives of this demonstration flight are the verification of the power supply, navigation and communication systems. But the bigger goal is to test the docking system, which was not tested on the first flight.
Even though there will be no astronauts on board, the capsule will not be empty. In the commander’s seat will be Rosie the Rocketeer, a dummy equipped with 15 sensors to collect data on the conditions people will experience during the flight. Rosie was on board on the first Starliner trip.
The capsule also carries 400 pounds of cargo and supplies for the space station.
Starliner must remain docked at the space station for five to 10 days before returning to Earth, landing with parachutes and a large airbag in the desert of the western United States (unlike SpaceX’s capsule, which lands in the sea off Florida).