Boeing’s Starliner set for 2nd unpiloted orbital test
After more than a year and a half of additional testing, Boeing is finally set to fly the second uncrewed Orbital Flight Test, OFT-2, of the company’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is the second of two spacecraft NASA selected to help develop as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. The other is SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, which has successfully flown people to the International Space Station three times.
The OFT-2 mission is essentially a redo of the December 2019 flight, which saw several programming bugs nearly cause the loss of Starliner. The spacecraft was not able to reach the International Space Station for docking and was returned to Earth two days after launch.
Just like the first uncrewed Starliner mission, OFT-2 is slated to launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket in an “N22” configuration. Meaning it has no payload fairing, two solid rocket motors and a dual-engine Centaur upper stage.
Liftoff is expected at 2:53 p.m. EDT (18:53 UTC) July 30, 2021, from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
The 45th Weather Squadron is predicting a 40% chance of favorable weather during the launch attempt with the primary concerns being the violation of the cumulus cloud rule, surface electric rule and lightning rule.
Should OFT-2 not launch on July 30, the next available opportunity is expected to be Aug. 3.
On July 17, 2021, Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft rolled out of the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility processing facility at NASA Kennedy Space Center and traveled to United Launch Alliance’s Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 where the capsule was joined to the Atlas 5 rocket in preparation of the launch.
This redo comes after coding errors prevented the capsule from reaching the International Space Station during the original OFT mission, which launched Dec. 20, 2019.
Shortly after separating from the Centaur upper stage, Starliner struggled to place itself into a stable orbit, requiring quick intervention from ground-based mission controllers.
It would later be found that an internal mission timer anomaly caused the spacecraft to perform a sequence of maneuvers at the incorrect time and miss its orbital insertion burn, according to Boeing.
The incorrect orbit meant OFT Starliner wouldn’t be able to get to the ISS. Two days after lift off, the capsule, which would be named Calypso, made a ground-based landing at White Sands Space Harbor, New Mexico.
Boeing stresses, however, that even though the spacecraft did not go to the ISS to demonstrate rendezvous and docking objectives, Starliner performed nominally or better-than-nominal performance during launch, orbital flight, reentry and landing operations.
After an independent review team completed its analysis of the Starliner OFT mission, calling it a “high visibility close call,” it was decided that Boeing would need to complete some 60 corrective actions in the software of the spacecraft.
It was also found that there was a second point in the mission that Starliner could have been lost. This software error was caught and fixed a few hours before the vehicle’s return to Earth, but could have resulted in the service module’s thrusters firing in the wrong manner after separation.
“Flying another uncrewed flight will allow us to complete all flight test objectives and evaluate the performance of the second Starliner vehicle at no cost to the taxpayer.” Boeing said after the anomaly occurred in 2019.
This out-of-pocket cost to the company is estimated to be roughly $410 million.
Among the objectives for this mission, according to NASA, is to verify the in-orbit operation of the avionics, docking system, communications and telemetry systems, life support systems, solar arrays and power systems as well as the propulsion systems.
In addition to the end-to-end test, OFT-2 is bringing some 400 pounds (180 kilograms) of crew supplies and cargo to the seven-person Expedition 65 crew aboard the ISS. It is also expected to return more than 550 pounds (250 kilograms) of cargo.
Assuming an on-time launch on July 30, Starliner should reach the ISS the next day, docking at about 3:06 p.m. EDT (19:06 UTC) July 31. It is expected to remain docked for about five to 10 days before undocking and returning to Earth to land in the western United States, likely at White Sands Space Harbor.
The OFT-2 mission to the International Space Station, like the original flight, will be an end-to-end test of the capsule’s human transportation capabilities. It is the last step needed before allowing Boeing to fly the Crew Flight Test, which could come as early as late 2021 or early 2022.
After the Crew Flight Test, regular crew rotation missions using Starliner can begin.
Video courtesy of Orbital Velocity
Theresa Cross grew up on the Space Coast. It’s only natural that she would develop a passion for anything “Space” and its exploration. During these formative years, she also discovered that she possessed a talent and love for defining the unique quirks and intricacies that exist in mankind, nature, and machines. Hailing from a family of photographers—including her father and her son, Theresa herself started documenting her world through pictures at a very early age. As an adult, she now exhibits an innate photographic ability to combine what appeals to her heart and her love of technology to deliver a diversified approach to her work and artistic presentations. Theresa has a background in water chemistry, fluid dynamics, and industrial utility.