Afternoon storms may hinder Starliner spacecraft liftoff Tuesday

Boeing, ULA targeting 1:20 p.m. Tuesday to launch Starliner to space station

Boeing's Starliner capsule has been rolled out to the launchpad ahead of Tuesday's test flight.
Boeing's Starliner capsule has been rolled out to the launchpad ahead of Tuesday's test flight.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Following a launch delay caused by an unexpected situation on the International Space Station, Boeing and ULA will try again to launch the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, sending it on an orbital flight test to the ISS.

The liftoff from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station is now scheduled for 1:20 p.m. Tuesday during an instantaneous launch window.

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The ULA Atlas V rocket and Starliner were rolled out Monday to Space Launch Complex 41 for the second time in a week. Teams rolled out the rocket last week but after a new Russian science module at the ISS randomly started firing its engines on Friday, NASA and Boeing delayed the Starliner launch.

The Russian space agency Roscosmos is handling the investigation into the mishap. The Russian module docked successfully but later started firing its thrusters unprompted, causing the space station to shift 45 degrees. Flight managers in Houston and Russia quickly worked to stabilize the space station and there was no danger to the seven astronauts living and working on the ISS, according to NASA.

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In a statement released by Roscosmos, Vladimir Solovyov, flight director of the space station’s Russian segment, said the incident was due to a software malfunction and because of the failure, a direct command to turn on the lab’s engines was mistakenly implemented.

However, in a radio interview, Roscosmos director Dmitry Rogozin suggested that a “human factor” may have also been at play.

“There was such euphoria (after Nauka successfully docked with the space station), people relaxed to some extent,” Rogozin said. “Perhaps one of the operators didn’t take into account that the control system of the block will continue to adjust itself in space. And it determined a moment three hours after (the docking) and turned on the engines.”

Now NASA and Boeing are moving ahead with the uncrewed Starliner flight Tuesday, but weather may cause another delay.

Forecasters with the Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron say the liftoff has a 40% chance of favorable weather for the instant window at 1:20 p.m.

Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, left, and NASA astronaut Suni Williams are seen as a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft aboard is seen as it is rolled out of the Vertical Integration Facility to the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41 ahead of the Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky) ((NASA/Joel Kowsky)\r\rFor copyright and restrictions refer to -�http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/guidelines/index.html)

Florida summers are notorious for afternoon thunderstorms and Tuesday will likely be no different. According to the latest forecast, cloud cover, lightning and storms are all causes for concern around launch time.

U.S. Space Force 45th Weather Squadron Launch Weather Officer Will Ulrich explained last week during a news conference last that the summer months always present a challenge.

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

Should weather lead to a scrub there is another opportunity on Wednesday. The forecast looks about the same with a 40% chance of good launch weather.

The orbital flight test (OFT-2) will mark the second attempt for Boeing to complete all the testing requirements needed for its spacecraft to begin flying NASA astronauts to and from the space station. During the first OFT in December 2019, the Starliner never made it to the space station because of a computer timing issue and was forced to land in New Mexico 48 hours after liftoff.

Boeing and NASA completed an independent review of the incident and now both are confident the Starliner will successfully dock at the ISS this time.

Boeing commercial crew program manager John Vollmer said the spacecraft and its teams are ready to get it right.

“We have spent the 18 months really trying to ring this vehicle out to have a lot of confidence that this flight will be successful,” he said Tuesday at Kennedy Space Center. “We will learn something out of this flight, there’s no doubt, but we want it to be a successful flight, and that the learning is something that we incorporate back to make this a safer, more robust vehicle.”

While no astronauts will be on this flight, the spacecraft is carrying about 400 pounds of science and supplies to the space station.

Boeing opted to repeat the orbital flight test on its own and is footing the bill, including for the costs associated with the supplies flying to the ISS in Starliner.

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