Third time the charm? Main rival to SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, the embattled Boeing Starliner spacecraft, set for launch tonight
Boeing could finally test its Starliner astronaut capsule, when the unmanned capsule is launched tonight to the International Space Station.
This will be a vital event for the CST-100 Starliner, and will allow Boeing to demonstrate to NASA and other officials that it can safely fly humans into space.
In 2019 software failures scuppered CST-100 Starliner capsule debut attempt to dock at the space station.
And then in August 2021 Boeing attempted a launch, but this was cancelled due to a problem with jammed valves in the spacecraft’s propulsion system.
In October 2021 Boeing confirmed the fix for the jammed valves would take longer than expected, and rolled back the uncrewed test flight until mid-2022.
Fast forward seven months, and the test flight is expected to take place tonight from NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, Reuters reported.
Boeing will be desperate to ensure the test flight goes well, and help it compete with SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, which has already carried astronauts to the International Space Station on multiple occasions.
“We wouldn’t be here right now if we weren’t confident that this would be a successful mission,” Butch Wilmore, a NASA astronaut likely to fly on Starliner’s first crewed flight sometime in the future, was quoted by Reuters as saying on Wednesday. “We’re ready. This spacecraft is ready.”
“The teams have been working really hard to get ready for this,” added Kathy Lueders, NASA’s space operations chief, underlining that the Starliner flight is a test mission.
“We learned a lot from the first uncrewed demo (in 2019). We’re gonna learn a lot from the second one,” said Lueders.
The CST-100 Starliner capsule is designed to carry seven people, and is meant to be launched on top of an Atlas V rocket.
It is designed essentially to be a space taxi, and should automatically dock with the International Space Station for at least four days, and eventually land back on Earth via parachutes.
Once it is declared operational, the CST-100 Starliner capsule will mostly carrier NASA astronauts to and from the space station.
This is important now, as using Russian launch facilities is now out of the question with its illegal invasion of Ukraine.
Boeing has been developing Starliner since 2014 when NASA selected the company, along with SpaceX, to develop space capsules that could carry astronauts to and from the space station.