It has a bit of the “to the Lord Mayor ‘look” feel to it, but the long delayed second part of “Launch America” is almost upon us.
The first “Launch America” was more than a year ago and SpaceX is now ready for its third crew mission to the International Space Station (ISS), but Boeing has always been involved in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and this week is aiming the second to become “Space Taxi” that astronauts can launch from American soil.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft and the upcoming Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2):
What is Starliner?
Starliner is a space capsule, just like the SpaceX Crew Dragon, which launched about three crews of NASA astronauts to the ISS. Designed for orbital spaceflight and launching vertically on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Florida, it returns to Earth by parachute.
Although it can take seven astronauts, it will probably take four astronauts plus cargo for NASA. It is autonomously connected to the ISS with a physically based system, but it also has manual backup controls.
The capsule interior glows blue – the trading color of Boeing.
When is this orbital test flight?
It is scheduled to launch at 2:53 pm EDT on Friday, July 30, 2021 from Space Launch Complex-41, Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
It will rendezvous and dock with the ISS, then release Starliner after five to 10 days in orbit and return to Earth, parachute to land in the desert of the western US.
How to stream OFT-2 live
Live coverage and commentary of the launch countdown will be broadcast at 2pm EDT on Friday, July 30, 2021 on NASA Television and the agency’s website, as well as on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitch, Daily Motion, Theta.TV and the NASA app.
A post-launch news conference is scheduled on NASA TV before 4 p.m.
On Saturday, July 31 at 3:06 p.m., you can view Starliner’s rendezvous and docking with the ISS and on Sunday, August 1 at 9:35 a.m. you can view the hatch opening followed by comments at 10:35 p.m.
Background for OFT-2
This second unmanned mission for Starliner to the ISS is all about NASA confirming Boeing for regular flights with astronauts. It is a repeat of Boeing’s first orbital flight test on December 20, 2019, called OFT-1, which failed in part due to a software problem that put Starliner in the wrong lane, and prevented it from docking with the ISS. Starliner returned to Earth a few days later.
It’s all part of NASA’s commercial crew program, an attempt to use public-private partnerships to make space travel cheaper.
However, Starliner will also carry 440 pounds / 200 kilograms of supplies and equipment to the ISS, bringing some critical research examples to Earth.
What’s next for Starliner?
If all goes well, Starliner will fly its first manned mission to the ISS by the end of 2021. NASA astronauts Barry Wilmore, Nicole Mann and Mike Fincke are retired.
Wish those clear skies and wide eyes.