Boeing Starliner headed for the ISS

Starliner: Rocket launches.
Boeing’s Starliner mission to the ISS successfully launched from Florida on Thursday evening, May 19, 2022. Image via Greg Diesel Walck.

The Boeing Starliner has taken off

Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 Starliner successfully launched tonight (May 19, 2022) at 22:54 UTC (18:54 EDT). This is Starliner’s third attempt — reportedly a crucial and risky attempt — to rendezvous with and dock with the International Space Station. Starliner is a reusable space capsule and makes this test flight without a live human crew. It is scheduled to dock with the International Space Station on Friday evening (May 20).

Visit NASA’s YouTube channel for coverage of the launch and a live broadcast of tomorrow’s docking.

Starliner launch and follow-up schedule

All times for the coverage schedule are in Eastern Daylight Time aligned to UTC-4.

A post-launch press conference is scheduled for May 19 at 9:00 p.m. EDT (1 UTC on May 20).

At 3:30 p.m. EDT (19:30 UTC) on Friday, May 20, coverage of the rendezvous and docking will begin, with docking scheduled for 19:10 EDT (23:10 UTC). On Saturday, coverage of the OFT-2 hatch opening on the ISS will begin at 11:30 a.m. EDT (15:30 UTC), followed by comments on the OFT-2 arrival from the Expedition 67 crew.

A full NASA TV program schedule is available at NASA Live.

NASA flight engineers aboard the ISS — Kjell Lindgren and Bob Hines — will oversee OFT-2’s three-and-a-half-hour automated approach before the capsule opens.

OFT-2 will dock with the Harmony module and run through the test mode there. The capsule is also carrying 500 pounds (227 kg) of cargo to the ISS, which will be unloaded during its five to 10 day stay in orbit.

Boeing Starliner: A mannequin (dummy) sitting in the pilot's seat of a space capsule.
Starliner is designed for 7 crew members or a combination of crew and cargo. But the test flight of Boeing’s (CST)-100 Starliner spacecraft in May 2022 – for Boeing’s third attempt to meet and dock with the ISS – will have only one humanoid body aboard the space capsule: Rosie the Rocketeer, Boeing’s anthropometric test device: a mannequin or dummy. Find out more about Rosie the Rocketeer. Image via NASA.

Boeing hopes the third time is a charm

On its website, Boeing describes Starliner like this:

Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 Starliner spacecraft is being developed in cooperation with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The Starliner was designed to carry seven passengers or a mix of crew and cargo for low Earth orbit missions. For NASA service missions to the International Space Station, it will carry up to four NASA-sponsored crew members and time-sensitive scientific research. The Starliner has an innovative, seamless structure and can be reused up to 10 times with a turnaround time of six months. It also features wireless internet and tablet technology for crew interfaces.

The May 19 launch is Starliner’s third attempt to reach the International Space Station. OFT-1’s first attempt failed when the Elapsed Time (MET) mission’s onboard clock malfunctioned, resulting in poor combustion and failure to correctly place in orbit for docking with the ISS.

OFT-1’s failure came in late 2019, and Boeing engineers thought they were ready for another attempt last August. This attempt never left the ground as pre-flight testing revealed a set of sticking drive valves. According to a report by CNBC, Boeing wants to have the valve redesigned. For OFT-2, however, the company applied a quick fix that it hopes will save the valves from failing again. From CNBC:

For this experiment, the company applied a sealant to the valves. But the solution is likely to be a temporary solution to the problem that left 13 of the 24 oxidation valves controlling Starliner’s movement in space stuck in August after moisture at the launch site caused corrosion.

The Reuters news service reported May 8 that Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne, which produced the faulty valves, are now at odds over the cause of the failure, with both companies pointing fingers at the other. From the Reuters report:

A team of Boeing and NASA engineers agree that the cause of the sticking valves is a chemical reaction between fuel, aluminum materials and moisture ingress from Starliner’s wet Florida launch pad.

Aerojet engineers and attorneys disagree, blaming a cleaning chemical Boeing used in ground tests, two of the sources said.

Boeing Starliner: space capsule on the way to dock.
The goal: An artist’s rendering of a Boeing Starliner capsule entering for docking with the International Space Station. Image via Boeing.

Valve dispute timing bad for Boeing

According to Reuters, the timing of the collision with Aerojet Rocketdyne could not have come at a worse time for Boeing:

The disagreement, which has never been reported before, comes as Boeing is already trying to pull itself out of successive crises that have reeled its jetliner business and drained cash.

Boeing has spent about $595 million out of its own pocket to fix Starliner’s problems, leaving the company with a shrinking profit margin. The development of Starliner was funded by a $6 billion grant to Boeing from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

EarthSky photos from Wednesday’s rollout

On Thursday morning, Starliner rested atop one of the most reliable rocket engines ever made, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V, at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, located adjacent to NASA’s main space flight complex, Kennedy Space Center.

Photographer Greg Diesel Walck documents the launch of EarthSky.

Boeing Starliner: rocket on launch pad, waiting for start.
The Boeing Starliner crew capsule — mounted on an Atlas 5 rocket — rolled out to the ocean-side launch pad Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Wednesday morning. Photo via EarthSky/ Greg Diesel Walck.
Boeing Starliner: A rocket and space capsule seen from behind 4 towers.
Another perspective on Wednesday’s Starliner launch. Rollout began Wednesday at 10:15 a.m. ET. The missile and crew capsule took about 45 minutes to reach the pad. Blastoff for this high-stakes unmanned test flight is scheduled for Thursday evening. It will be the mission’s third attempt at an autonomous rendezvous and docking with the International Space Station. Photo via EarthSky/ Greg Diesel Walck.

Conclusion: The Boeing Starliner is on its way to the International Space Station. Docking is scheduled for Friday, May 20 at 7:10 p.m. EDT.

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