Situated at the top of United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket, Boeing’s Starliner sets the stage for a critical space-bound mission to the International Space Station as it rolls out to the Space Launch Complex 41 amid the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Wednesday. Attempting its third flight with the spacecraft, Boeing and NASA have secured a liftoff of 6:54 PM EDT on Thursday, May 19th.
The Starliner is positioned among NASA’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test 2 mission (OFT-2), which is intended to test the viability of Boeing’s spacecraft for the taxiing of astronauts to and fro the ISS. It marks the third attempt for Boeing and NASA, as two previously failed missions, spell the utter importance of Thursday’s launch.
The first Starliner launch, which took place in December of 2019, was seemingly a success up until the rocket failed to reach the ISS. The OFT-1 mission was a bust due largely to software issues on the Starliner, which disallowed the capsule from reaching its intended orbit. Another launch was set in July of last year, yet this was also canceled early because of stuck valves amid the Starliner’s service module.
Given NASA’s clearing of the Starliner OFT-2 mission, following Boeing’s recent amendments to the starcraft’s service module, the only real contender in the way for Thursday’s launch is surrounding weather conditions. According to the US Space Force 45th Weather Squadron, a current 70% favorable weather is forecasted for Starliner’s liftoff.
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Following its departure, Boeing’s Starliner will arrive at the ISS on Friday, where it will remain for about five days amid the station’s orbiting lab. On-board ISS astronauts will open the spacecraft’s hatches come Saturday, May 21st, if all goes according to plan. The spacecraft’s return trip will see it plummet back to Earth at New Mexico’s White Sands Missile Range utilizing sophisticated retrorockets and parachutes to break its breakneck fall.
As always, NASA will be preparing a live stream on Thursday and beyond, covering the entire OFT-2 mission for all enthusiasts to attend, no matter their location. The broadcast will begin at 6 PM EDT on Thursday on NASA’s website and the organization’s YouTube channel. Additional live events will showcase the rendezvous and docking, as well as the opening of the hatch on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
Meanwhile, amid the ISS itself, crew members prepared for the Starliner’s arrival by studying the capsule’s “systems and approach and rendezvous procedures ahead of the spacecraft’s automated docking,” per NASA’s published blog. Assorted engineers of the Expedition 67 crew, including the ESA’s Samantha Cristoforetti and NASA’s Jessica Watkins, performed medical training and system maintenance, like health data preparations “for the downlinking to doctors on Earth,” as well as so-called “orbital plumbing tasks.”
Other various procedures executed by the ISS crew included exercise system upkeep, specifically on the free weight exercises for microgravity called the advanced resistive exercise device. Orbiting lab commander Oleg Artemyev, a Roscosmos cosmonaut, utilized the ultrasound sensors for more accurately imaging the Earth, which is intended to aid in enhancing the coordination of mission controllers with space crews on a more international level.
As is the case, all seems a go for Thursday and Boeing’s third OFT-2 mission attempt with Starliner. The critical mission will be a proving ground for Boeing as SpaceX dominates in the realm of reusable spacecraft and is a record collaborator amid NASA’s multibillion-dollar contract to ship astronauts to the ISS.
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