CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Launch dates and times are always subject to change but if Boeing and United Launch Alliance stick to the targeted liftoff window for the CST-100 Starliner capsule orbital test flight from the Space Coast, we’ll have no problem remembering when it will happen.
Currently, Boeing and ULA are planning for Dec. 17 with a 7:47 a.m. liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41.
If you didn’t make the connection, that’s 7:47 a.m., just like the 747 jumbo airplanes Boeing also manufactures. A stretch of a connection? Maybe. But I bet you’ll remember the launch time now.
When it does launch, Boeing’s Starliner capsule will dock for the first time at the International Space Station, where it will remain for about a week before it returns to Earth. This dry-run without a crew will enable Boeing to test the astronaut capsule’s launch, docking and landing systems ahead of a crewed flight as soon as next year.
“Following a successful flight, we are well-positioned to fly our first crew in early 2020,” Boeing officials said in a recent statement.
The Starliner capsule and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft were both selected by NASA under the Commercial Crew Program to shuttle astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
Ahead of the countdown, here are three things to know about Starliner:
Starliner’s only passenger: Rosie the Astronaut
While no astronauts will fly on the orbital test flight, Boeing will send up a test dummy to gauge what the astronauts will experience when they do launch. Rosie the Astronaut is named after World War II’s Rosie the Riveter. The dummy has hundreds of sensors for the first Starliner test flight to the International Space Station. And it’s wearing Rosie the Riveter’s trademark red polka-dot headscarf, along with a Boeing blue spacesuit.
Boeing said it chose the name given its long history of hiring women, especially during World War II, to keep up bomber production.
When Starliner is certified to launch humans, NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Michael Finke will be joined by Boeing test pilot Chris Ferguson, a former NASA astronaut, for the first flight to the ISS.
Where is Starliner now?
Last week, News 6 was there as Boeing rolled the spacecraft from its Kennedy Space Center facility to the launch site on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The capsule was then mounted to the top of the Atlas V rocket inside the hangar, where it will await final processing before launch.
The pair will be moved to the pad together ahead of launch.
How much it will cost to launch is under some debate
Since the space shuttle program ended in 2011, the U.S. has paid Russia more than $84 million a seat to launch NASA astronauts.
A recent NASA Office of Inspector General report indicted NASA will pay an average of $90 million per seat to fly astronauts with Boeing and an average of $55 million per seat with SpaceX. Boeing disputed that number, saying it doesn’t account for the cargo and supplies Starliner will also launch to the ISS.
“Boeing will fly the equivalent of a fifth passenger in cargo for NASA, so the per-seat pricing should be considered based on five seats rather than four,” a statement from the company read. “For proprietary, competitive reasons Boeing does not disclose specific pricing information, but we are confident our average seat pricing to NASA is below the figure cited.”
For more details on Starliner’s capabilities, check out the interactive graphic below: