CAPE CANVERAL, Fla. – Boeing officials plan to re-do the orbital flight test of the Starliner spacecraft a little sooner than originally planned due to a few things lining up in the company’s favor.
Boeing is planning to launch the CST-100 Starliner on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral to the International Space Station, dock and return it to Earth completing one of the final tests for the spacecraft before it can fly NASA and international astronaut crews.
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This will mark the second OFT for Boeing after the first in December 2019 did not reach the space station, instead returning to Earth 48 hours later because of a computer timing error with the capsule.
In December, Boeing officials said they were targeting March 29 but now the company is planning to repeat the orbital flight test on March 25. The reason for the four-day time bump is because there is availability on the Eastern range, ULA’s Atlas V rocket will be ready and the company has made progress correcting hardware and software issues with the spacecraft flagged after the first OFT.
ULA said Monday that an upcoming launch for the U.S. Space Force planned for February has been delayed to allow more processing time for the spacecraft, clearing the way for the ULA to launch Boeing’s spacecraft.
The launch of a ULA #AtlasV 551 rocket carrying the #STP3 mission for the @USSF_SMC has been delayed to enable the customer to evaluate the launch readiness of the STP Satellite-6 spacecraft.— ULA (@ulalaunch) January 25, 2021
Additionally, a March 25 launch would mean there is room for Starliner to dock at the space station. It’s getting pretty busy on the ISS with cargo spacecraft deliveries and soon-to-be two commercial spacecraft shuttling astronauts to and from Earth with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Starliner, not including the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
Boeing teams recently mated Starliner’s crew module on the spacecraft service module at Kennedy Space Center. Teams will complete outfitting the spacecraft’s interior before loading up the spacecraft with cargo and completing final pre-launch checkouts, according to Boeing.
Boeing’s update said the Starliner’s OFT-2 software was recently requalified for flight.
“Teams conducted a full software review and several series of tests to verify Starliner’s software meets design specifications,” the company said in a news release. “Boeing also will complete an end-to-end simulation of the OFT-2 test flight using flight hardware and final versions of Starliner’s flight software to model the vehicle’s expected behavior before flight.”
If the March OFT-2 goes well, the spacecraft will dock at the ISS and return to Earth, landing in New Mexico.
Following a full review of the test, Boeing could fly its first astronaut crew in December, according to NASA’s most recent timeline. NASA astronauts Nicole Mann, Mike Fincke and Barry “Butch” Wilmore will be the first to fly in Starliner to the ISS when it does happen.