Starliner launch: All eyes are on weather for liftoff

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

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.UPDATE: The Boeing Starliner launch planned for Friday, July 30, has been delayed due to an issue caused by a new Russian module at the International Space Station. The module unexpectedly fired its thrusters causing the station to shift. The ISS and its crew are safe but NASA and Boeing delayed the launch and will release a new launch date soon.

EARLIER REPORT

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft begins its journey to the launchpad ahead of its launch to the International Space Station planned for later this week, but the forecast isn’t in its favor for liftoff.

The spacecraft is scheduled to launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Base at 2:53 p.m. Friday. The Starliner mission is the second orbital test flight, or OFT-2, for the spacecraft, a repeat after a 2019 attempt ended early.

[WANT MORE SPACE? What’s changed since Boeing’s last attempt to send Starliner to the space station]

Teams were set to begin moving the spacecraft atop its rocket from the rocket hangar to Space Launch Complex 41 around noon Wednesday, but Kennedy Space Center officials said it was delayed because of an internet outage and weather. The rollout began around 10 a.m. Thursday.

A Boeing spokesperson said the initial rollout was delayed “due to an internet service provider outage that could not be resolved before the onset of predicted weather exceeding operational constraints.” The launch remains on track for Friday’s liftoff, according to Boeing.

However, as of the latest launch forecast, it’s possible weather could lead to a scrub.

U.S. Space Force 45th Weather Squadron Launch Weather Officer Will Ulrich said during a pre-launch news conference Tuesday that the summer months always present a challenge.

“It kind of feels like all eyes are on weather at this point,” Ulrich said.

The instantaneous launch window at 2:53 p.m. is around the same time showers and thunderstorms typically move into Central Florida fueled by the Bermuda high, a system that sits over Bermuda this time of year driving storms over the Florida peninsula.

“Well this week, the Bermuda high is to our south, which leads to offshore flow or west-east winds,” Ulrich said. “What that means for you and I is it typically favors showers and thunderstorms on our side of the coast, which is obviously not good news when you’re attempting to launch at three o’clock in the afternoon.”

As of the latest forecast, the 45th Weather Squadron says there is a 60% of unfavorable weather for liftoff. The primary concerns are lightning and cloud cover.

“We have to be realistic going into late week and we can hope that we’ll find a gap in the shower and thunderstorm activity that we’re anticipating, but regardless, the 45th Weather Squadron is ready to support, regardless of what Mother Nature throws at us,” Ulrich said.

If ULA can get the rocket off the pad despite Florida’s seasonal weather, the spacecraft will separate and then dock with the International Space Station on Saturday afternoon. During the 2019 attempt, the Starliner launched into orbit but then had to land back on Earth 48 hours later due to a computer timing error. After an extensive investigation and changes to the spacecraft software, Boeing is ready to try again.

If the launch delays, there are additional opportunities on Aug. 3 and 4, also before 3 p.m.


Use the form below to sign up for the ClickOrlando.com space newsletter, sent every Wednesday afternoon.