Starliner ‘go’ for launch to space station

Starliner launching to ISS on July 30 at 2:53 p.m.

Teams prepare Starliner spacecraft for second rendezvous attempt with International Space Station

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – Boeing and NASA teams took part in a flight readiness review Thursday at Kennedy Space Center, one of the final steps before the Starliner spacecraft launches to the space station.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is set to launch July 30 at 2:53 p.m. on the second orbital flight test, known as OFT-2, to test the capabilities of the spacecraft before it can begin flying astronauts to and from the ISS. This will mark the second attempt for Boeing after the first test in December 2019 ended early following a successful launch.

Key mission managers with NASA and Boeing met all day for an assessment known as the flight readiness review, or FRR, to go over the spacecraft, its systems and the readiness of the space station to dock the spacecraft. All of the people involved wore face masks but officials said there have been no recent setbacks due to COVID-19.

NASA’s head of human spaceflight Kathy Lueders said the review marks an important milestone. It gives space station, commercial crew and Boeing teams a chance to stop and work together to “scrutinize the work they have done to get ready for this flight,” she said.

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The review wrapped up around 4 p.m. Mission managers spoke to reporters during a teleconference to discuss the review.

“After reviewing the team’s data, and the readiness of all the parties, everybody said ‘Go’ for the launch today, and moving out for the mission,” Lueders said, adding it was an incredibly detailed review.

Steve Stitch, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager, said past problems from the first attempted orbital test flight in 2019 have all been addressed ahead of the second attempt. In all, 61 flight software changes and 19 communication system changes were made after an independent review made recommendations from the botched flight.

Boeing Commercial Crew Program manager John Vollmer said this redo is extremely important for Boeing.

“This is a serious and unforgiving business, right? So we take it very seriously,” Vollmer said. “It’s extremely important to us that we’re successful on this flight, all that we’ve done over the past 18 months, we are very confident that we are going to have a good flight.”

On Friday, Boeing and NASA conducted a mission dress rehearsal. The NASA astronauts who will one day fly on Starliner will be in the Boeing mission control center at KSC to listen in, according to Vollmer.

The final step before launch is the launch readiness review on Monday.

The spacecraft will launch on a ULA Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station Complex-41. After launch, Starliner will dock at the ISS about a day later. The capsule will then undock on Aug. 5 and land in New Mexico the same day.

The spacecraft will also be carrying about 400 pounds of cargo, including food and hygiene supplies for the astronauts. Starliner will also be bringing back some ISS air tanks that will be refurbished and reused.

Boeing previously tested the launch and landing of the spacecraft in 2019 but the docking at the ISS will mark a critical milestone to certify the spacecraft to fly astronauts.

If the launch delays, there is another opportunity on Aug. 3.

On Tuesday, NASA astronauts moved the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour from one port to another on the ISS to make room for Starliner’s arrival. Next week will mark the first time two commercial crew vehicles will be docked on station.

“With this mission, we’re increasing the robustness of the ISS program by getting the agency closer to another certified crew provider, which allows the space station team and the agency and the international partnership to further the activities we do onboard the space station,” ISS program manager Joel Montalbano said.

This is the final test for Boeing before Starliner flies a crew of four NASA astronauts, possibly later this year if the flight test goes well.