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Boeing gears up for crucial space mission in May

Boeing and its launch partners are making final preparations for the next test flight of the beleaguered Starliner CST-100 spacecraft.

Orbital Flight Test-2, currently slated for May 19, is expected to demonstrate the Starliner’s human transportation capabilities in a crewless mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The crucial mission follows a failed test flight in December 2019 in which Boeing’s Starliner was unable to reach its intended orbit.

After multiple fixes were made to the spacecraft’s software, NASA and Boeing had intended to attempt a second test flight in August last year. But the mission was scrubbed close to launch after engineers discovered valve problems linked to the Starliner’s propulsion system.

Starliner will launch atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida. In preparation for launch day, the upper stage of the Atlas V rocket was successfully placed on top of the first stage in an operation that took place inside Cape Canaveral’s Vertical Integration Facility on Tuesday, April 26. Pre-flight testing will take place before the Starliner is fitted to the top of the rocket in early May.

The Dual Engine Centaur was hoisted atop #AtlasV today for ULA's 150th mission. The rocket is ready to begin pre-flight testing ahead of liftoff on May 19 with @BoeingSpace's #Starliner for the #OFT2 mission.

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— ULA (@ulalaunch) April 26, 2022

The highly anticipated test flight will see the Starliner dock with the ISS before returning to Earth in a parachute-assisted landing in White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico five days after launch.

A successful flight would take Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft a step closer to becoming a part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a public-private effort aimed at boosting the accessibility of space by combining the space agency’s extensive experience with new technology developed and built by private firms.

SpaceX, for example, is already part of the program, having achieved success with its reusable Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft, which have been transporting cargo to the ISS since 2012 and undertaking crewed flights since 2020.

Following years of issues and two failed missions, NASA and Boeing are well aware of how important it is for next month’s Orbital Flight Test-2 mission to succeed. Be sure to check back nearer the time for information on how to watch a livestream of the crucial flight.

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Trevor Mogg
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