Boeing Appears Ready For Maiden Astronaut Mission After Years Of Delays

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Ahead of its highly anticipated crewed test flight to the International Space Station (ISS) that has been years in the making, Boeing has transported its Starliner spaceship to the United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) facilities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Starliner’s ten mile journey started early morning today, and the ship has now been mated to its rocket for the highly anticipated test flight next month. Boeing and ULA have also provided a tentative launch date for yet another privately operated crewed mission to the ISS, and if the test is successful, then Boeing will join SpaceX as NASA’s ISS crew transporter.

Boeing Gears Up For Historic Starliner Crewed Launch After Years Of Delay

Over the course of its development, Boeing’s Starliner has faced multiple problems. It has been stacked on a ULA rocket for launch before too, but last minute problems prevented the mission from going through. These delays also took place before previous Starliner flights. Its inaugural flight in 2019 suffered from software problems and saw Starliner unable to complete its primary mission objective of docking with the ISS.

The second test flight took place roughly three years later, in 2022, and initially saw a scrub due to valve problems. While this attempt saw the ship successfully dock with the ISS, it nevertheless encountered problems with its thrusters. These thrusters are essential to navigate and orient the ship in space, and they can also lead to a loss of vehicle in the worst case scenario.

Starliner’s CFT mission, now planned for May 6th, was initially slated to take to the skies last year. However, the launch was scrubbed at the last moment, and Boeing shared later that it had to remove miles of flammable tape and sort out other problems on the ship.

The Starliner after being mated to ULA’s Atlas V rocket. Image: ULA

Now, after a week long fueling process, Starliner appears to be ready for flight after Boeing shipped it to ULA’s site at the KSC in Florida. The spacecraft will launch on the Atlas V rocket, and it will be one of Atlas V’s last missions. The upcoming mission is another important one for ULA, a firm that had dominated the U.S. private launch sector before SpaceX’s Falcon 9 disrupted the industry by reducing costs by reusing the first stage.

As of now, ULA and Boeing are aiming towards a May 6 launch for the spacecraft. Since its flight is a test mission, Starliner will fly a two member crew made of NASA astronauts Sunita Williams and Barry Wilmore. Their mission will be for seven days, and during flight, the astronauts will evaluate their ship’s life support, docking and attitude, positioning and other systems to clear Starliner for future ISS missions.

If NASA is comfortable with Starliner CFT’s progress, then the ship will join SpaceX’s Crew Dragon to become the second spacecraft capable of supporting crewed spaceflight from the U.S. SpaceX’s Dragon and Russia’s Soyuz are currently the only vehicles cleared to send crew to the ISS, and with Starliner’s inclusion in its fleet, NASA will for the first time in recent history have more spacecraft to send crew to space than Russia.

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