CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Boeing is “go” for the test launch of its Starliner spacecraft from Cape Canaveral next Friday, officials with NASA said Thursday after a flight readiness review.
“We are go for launch," NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard said during a call with reporters after the flight readiness review.
The CST-100 Starliner will launch -- without astronauts on board -- atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Dec. 20 at 6:36 a.m. from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
If the launch slips from Dec. 20, Dec. 21 and 23 are backup launch dates, according to NASA Commercial Spaceflight Development Director Phil McAlister. Should liftoff delay further, there are more launch opportunities from Dec. 25-28.
The orbital test flight, or OFT-1, is part of the process to certify the spacecraft to launch NASA astronauts as part of the commercial crew program. SpaceX is developing a second spacecraft called Crew Dragon, which is also undergoing certification.
Both U.S. companies have faced delays in developing their spacecraft. When NASA first awarded the combined $6.8 billion contracts in 2014, it had estimated the commercial crew spacecraft would be launching humans by 2017. NASA has paid Russia to launch its astronauts since 2011.
“For us, it wasn’t about getting to the launchpad quickly, but getting to the launchpad safely,” Boeing commercial crew program vice president John Mulholland said.
The first passengers to fly on Starliner, NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Mike Finke and Boeing test pilot Chris Ferguson, will be at Cape Canaveral to watch the OFT launch next week.
If the test flight goes well, Boeing and NASA officials estimated Starliner could launch astronauts in the first part of 2020.
International Program Manager Kirk Shireman said when Starliner docks at the space station, it will be the first time the docking system is used. A similar docking mechanism will be used on NASA’s lunar gateway for the Artemis program.
After spending about a week at the space station, Starliner will return to Earth landing in White Sands, New Mexico.