Boeing and Nasa prepares for its Starliner launch [Update: It launched!]

The CST-100 Starliner will be launched into space from Florida today, in what is a critical mission for both Boeing and Nasa. The craft’s primary function will be to transport passengers to the International Space Station, which is currently in a low Earth orbit.
Starliner NASA
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is intended to fly manned missions to the International Space Station. Photo: Nasa.

Atlas V launch

Starliner will be launched via an Atlas V rocket, and this latest launch will play a key role in establishing Nasa’s Commercial Crew Program. This project will help develop a regular arrangement whereby Nasa astronauts will travel to and from the space station on a regular basis.

This latest Starliner mission will be monitored closely by various agencies, as the program was originally intended to begin transporting humans back in 2017. As is frequently the case with highly complex space programs, the project ran into technical difficulties, which has delayed its completion.

Nasa had awarded a parallel contract to SpaceX, but this project has also failed to arrive on time. This must be of major concern to the organization associated with space exploration, as Nasa invested nearly $7 billion in the two projects, with the hope of developing capsules that can carry crew into space on a regular basis.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft onboard is seen as it is rollout out of the Vertical Integration Facility to the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41 ahead of the Orbital Flight Test mission. Photo: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Dress rehearsal

While the Friday flight of Starliner will not be manned, it is essentially a rehearsal of the way that project is intended to run when it goes live. This will be vital for both Boeing and Nasa, as any further problems would jeopardize their agreement.

Nonetheless, there is optimism at Nasa about the outcome of this latest test. Phil McAlister, the director of NASA’s commercial spaceflight development, commented in a recent press conference that this latest launch promises to be very important for the space station plan.

“It’s just a phenomenal opportunity for us to learn the truest performance of the spacecraft. Computer models are great but they only get us so far and seeing how the spacecraft actually performs in the operational environment of space is a huge confidence building measure,” McAllister commented.

While Boeing isn’t ready for human passengers just yet, the Starliner flight won’t be literally unmanned. A smart dummy, dubbed Rosie, will be aboard the craft, with the intention of gathering vital data about the journey, via a series of attached sensors. Over 600 pounds of cargo will also be on board, with Nasa and Boeing hoping to learn more about how food, clothing, and radiation-monitoring equipment will survive the journey.

Nasa Boeing Starliner
The International Space Station serves as a microgravity and space environment research laboratory. Photo: Nasa.

15-minute deployment

The rocket capsule is due to launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, with the rocket requiring 15 minutes in order to deploy Starliner. Interestingly, Starliner will be launched at a particularly low altitude, as in real-world endeavors this will make it easier for astronauts to return to base should there be an emergency scenario.

As Starliner’s mission unfolds, the eyes of the space-following world will be trained on its progress, and there will no doubt be a fair few nervous observers at Boeing and Nasa as well!

Update: It launched and hit problems

The Starliner mission was going smoothly as it took off to the International Space Station but after the capsule successfully detached its own engines failed to ignite.

Shortly after, Boeing announced that, “the Boeing Starliner space vehicle experienced an off-nominal insertion.”

“After launching successfully at 6:36 a.m. EST Friday on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the Boeing Starliner space vehicle experienced an off-nominal insertion.

The spacecraft currently is in a safe and stable configuration. Flight controllers have completed a successful initial burn and are assessing next steps.

Boeing and NASA  are working together to review options for the test and mission opportunities available while the Starliner remains in orbit.

A joint news conference will be held at 9 am Eastern on NASA TV.”

It seems the onboard computer system encountered a bug that was telling the capsule systems wrong time and location information. We will soon see what will come of this later on today and if there is a devised solution.

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Darryl M.

OK, my problem with this article is it comes off making Space X and Boeing appear at fault for not having a manned space capsule in 2017. The facts, the first Shuttle launch was April, 1981, the last shuttle launch was July 2011. In 2004 President Bush initiated the Space Shuttle’s cancellation, so NASA knew in 2004 the shuttle program was going to be shut down yet NASA waited till 2010 to contract Space X and Boeing to build a manned Space capsule from scratch in 7 years. So the real problem is shortsightedness on the part of NASA and… Read more »

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