Much has happened since the first launch attempt of the Boeing Starliner capsule in 2019. The Covid-19 pandemic upended life on Earth. Rival SpaceX beat Boeing (BA) to providing regular service to the International Space Station. And billionaires touched the edge of space, inaugurating a new era of space travel.
But Boeing is back to try its uncrewed test again.
The Boeing Starliner launch is scheduled for 2:53 p.m. ET Friday from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The capsule will ride on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and carry more than 400 pounds of NASA cargo and supplies to the ISS.
The plan is for the Starliner to then dock with the ISS at 3:06 p.m. ET on Saturday and spend 10 days in orbit. The launch will test the avionics and docking system as well as vibrations levels on the Starliner and the navigation and control systems of the vehicle and rocket.
But while Boeing is ready to go, the weather forecast for Friday’s launch shows just a 40% chance of favorable weather for launch. Meteorologists with the U.S. Space Force 45th Weather Squadron see cloud cover and lightning possible during the launch window. NASA has backup launch opportunities set for Aug. 3 and 4.
A successful flight would be a big step toward giving NASA two private-sector providers of space taxi service.
In 2014, NASA awarded Boeing a $4.2 billion contract and SpaceX a $2.6 billion contract to end its reliance on Russia’s Soyuz capsules after the space shuttle fleet was retired. The hope was for regular service to start by 2017.
Both companies ran into delays, but SpaceX has since launched one operational flight to the ISS since its initial crewed test flight in May 2020 with another flight due in October.
Boeing stock climbed 4.2% to 231.58 on the stock market today, following a second-quarter report that showed a surprise swing to profits. Lockheed Martin (LMT), Boeing’s joint venture partner on United Launch Alliance, dipped 0.4%.
Boeing Starliner Looks To Overcome Setback
In December 2019, the Boeing Starliner failed to reach its proper orbit during an initial uncrewed test and wasn’t able to dock with the ISS because an internal timer on the capsule was off by 11 hours.
Another software issue was found with the thrusters that could have lead to a catastrophic spacecraft failure.
Since the launch, Boeing addressed 80 recommendations from a Starliner review team. They include improvements in testing and simulation, software, and operations, among other things.
Boeing also completed an end-to-end test rehearsal of the Starliner in May. Boeing will complete the simulation before every future flight as recommended by the independent review team.
The first launch wasn’t an entire failure. While the Boeing Starliner failed to achieve key objectives, NASA has said it still tested important systems, including its propulsion, space-to-space communications, navigation, environment control and life support, command uplink between the International Space Station and Starliner, and the landing parachutes.
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