Skip to main content

Boeing’s Starliner capsule attached to Atlas rocket ahead of first test flight

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is guided into position above a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 21, 2019. NASA/Cory Huston

Things are heating up in Cape Canaveral, as Boeing’s new Starliner capsule is connected to the rocket which will launch it on its first orbital test flight in a few weeks’ time. The capsule will carry astronauts to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s commercial crew program.

You can get an idea of the complexity of infrastructure required for a launch by looking at the photo below, showing an alternative angle of the Starliner sitting atop the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. United Launch Alliance is a joint venture between aeronautics companies Lockheed Martin and Boeing which provides launch services using either the smaller Atlas rocket or the larger Delta Heavy. The smaller rocket is no slouch though, with the Atlas V generating about 1.6 million pounds of thrust at launch.

Related Videos
On Nov. 21, 2019, the Boeing Starliner space vehicle was mated to its United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Boeing and United Launch Alliance

One of the reasons that the commercial crew program has generated so much interest in the U.S. is that it will mark the first time crewed missions have launched from the country since the retirement of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. This makes it an important marker of international status as well as being an issue of national security.

“This is critical to our future as a nation,” Bob Cabana, director of NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center and himself a former NASA astronaut, said in a statement. “We’ve got to get astronauts flying on U.S rockets from U.S. soil, and this is just a huge step forward.”

Despite the enthusiasm on show from NASA officials, however, the commercial crew program has had its share of difficulties. The Starliner capsule has faced considerable delays, and SpaceX’s crewed capsule, the Crew Dragon, actually exploded during testing in April. Still, NASA remains optimistic that partnerships with private companies can help fund space exploration through commercial habitation programs in addition to the commercial crew and commercial resupply programs.

The next big day for the Starliner is December 17, when it will launch on its first-ever orbital test flight, which will be uncrewed.

Editors' Recommendations

Boeing is working on fixing its troubled Starliner capsule
Boeing's Starliner capsule atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket in Cape Canaveral, Florida on Thursday, August 5.

After canceling the planned test flight of its new crew capsule, the Starliner, Boeing says it is working on fixing the issue which led to the cancellation and is hopeful that the test could go ahead this month.

Boeing had originally planned to perform its second orbital test flight of the Starliner (known as OFT-2) on Tuesday, August 3. But this launch was scrubbed and pushed back to Wednesday, August 4. This second launch was subsequently scrubbed as well, with Boeing announcing that it had discovered an issue with a propulsion pump inside the Starliner.

Read more
Boeing announces decision on Wednesday launch of Starliner
A graphic rendering of the Boeing Starliner orbiting Earth.

NASA and Boeing have announced they will not be attempting to launch the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to the International Space Station on Wednesday, August 4.

The announcement came hours after it scrubbed a launch set for 1:20 p.m. (ET) on Tuesday, August 3. The cause was a valve issue discovered in a propulsion pump inside Starliner’s service module.

Read more
Starliner launch on Tuesday depends on the weather. Here’s how it’s looking
The Boeing Starliner on the launchpad.

NASA is planning to launch Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) at 1:20 p.m. ET on Tuesday, August 3, but unsettled weather conditions around the launch site at Cape Canaveral, Florida, could delay lift-off.

According to the most recent forecast by the U.S. Space Force 45th Weather Squadron, which provides NASA with detailed weather information, the crucial CST-100 Starliner test flight currently has a 60% chance of proceeding as planned.

Read more