ULA officials make final preparations ahead of uncrewed Boeing Starliner launch

Orbital Flight Test-2 launch slated for 6:54 p.m. Thursday

NASA and United Launch Alliance officials are preparing ahead of the launch of Boeing’s uncrewed Starliner capsule, scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NASA and United Launch Alliance officials are preparing ahead of the launch of Boeing’s uncrewed Starliner capsule, scheduled to lift off Thursday night from Cape Canaveral.

A ULA Atlas V rocket will launch the Orbital Flight Test-2 at 6:54 p.m. from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. There is currently a 70% chance of favorable weather conditions for the launch, space officials said.

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The capsule is set to travel to the International Space Station and dock before returning to Earth, landing in one of five designated landing zones in the western part of the U.S.

This test flight follows two previous attempts, scrubbed in August and October of last year due to ongoing technical investigations.

“The second orbital flight test will provide us with an opportunity to further analyze the unique technologies developed for our Atlas V launch vehicle in support of NASA’s human spaceflight program,” Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of government and commercial programs, said in a news release. “We have worked very closely with Boeing and our industry partners to ensure the Atlas V rocket is ready to launch Starliner to the International Space Station. The integrated team remains focused on crew safety and this mission brings us one step closer to flying astronauts.”

ULA officials said the Atlas V rocket was modified specifically for the Boeing Starliner spacecraft and therefore “does not include a payload fairing.”

The launch vehicle adapter will employ an aeroskirt to reduce aerodynamic loads on the vehicle and boost the spacecraft using RD AMROSS RD-180 and Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10A-4-2 engines, space officials said.

This will be the 93rd launch of the Atlas V rocket, adding to ULA’s 149 total launches.

If the test flight is successful, NASA and Boeing will then plan a Crew Flight Test, Starliner’s first mission with astronauts on board.

On Tuesday, Boeing’s vice president of the Commercial Crew program said the company fixed the issue that scrubbed Orbital Flight Test-2 during the pre-launch last summer — more than a dozen valves on Starliner’s service module failing to open.

‘’We did one last cycle of all the valves yesterday and they all operated nominally so we’re in good shape,’’ Mark Nappi said.

ULA said it will roll its Atlas V with Starliner on top to Space Launch Complex 41 Wednesday.

If successful this time, the mission managers plan to keep Starliner docked to the space station for four or five days.

‘’Our program is designed to have two, full space transportation systems and we’re excited to bring Boeing online,’’ NASA’s Commercial Crew program manager Steve Stich said.

About the Authors:

James joined News 6 in March 2016 as the Brevard County Reporter. His arrival was the realization of a three-year effort to return to the state where his career began. James is from Pittsburgh, PA and graduated from Penn State in 2009 with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.