CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – Following a military mission delay for the U.S. Space Force NASA and Boeing are now targeting NET March 25, for the launch of Starliner’s second uncrewed flight test as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) since a slot has opened up on the Eastern Range schedule for the Atlas V carrier rocket needed for the mission and provided by United Launch Alliance (ULA)
“With @BoeingSpace, we are now targeting launch of the #Starliner spacecraft’s second uncrewed flight test for March 25. This test is a critical milestone on the company’s path to fly missions to the @Space_Station through our @Commercial_Crew program,” NASA confirmed via tweet.
With @BoeingSpace, we are now targeting launch of the #Starliner spacecraft's second uncrewed flight test for March 25. This test is a critical milestone on the company's path to fly missions to the @Space_Station through our @Commercial_Crew program: https://t.co/XLTY7MqzBv pic.twitter.com/4bhSamt9FY
— NASA (@NASA) January 25, 2021
“Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test-2, or OFT-2, is a critical developmental milestone on the company’s path to fly crew missions for NASA to the International Space Station,” NASA said in a statement.
“The target launch date is enabled by an opening on the Eastern Range, the availability of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, steady progress on hardware and software, and an International Space Station docking opportunity.”
Boeing is developing Starliner to function as an astronaut space taxi as a commercial vehicle under contract from NASA to ferry crews to and from the ISS.
ULA had intended to launch the STP-3 for the U.S. Space Force on the next Atlas V launch schedule for liftoff on 26 February from pad 41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida.
With the STP-3 blastoff now postponed to evaluate the launch readiness of the national security spacecraft ULA can now switch their focus to preparing and stacking the Atlas V designated for the Starliner OFT-2 mission for NASA at Space Launch Complex-41.
“The launch of a United Launch Atlas V 551 rocket carrying the STP-3 mission for the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) has been delayed to enable the customer to evaluate the launch readiness of the STP Satellite-6 spacecraft.” ULA announced in a statement.
Meanwhile Boeing is making steady progress preparing the new Starliner crew vehicle and service module for the OFT-2 mission.
“Boeing recently mated the spacecraft’s reusable crew module on its brand new service module inside the Starliner production factory at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Teams are working to complete outfitting of the vehicle’s interior before loading cargo and conducting final spacecraft checkouts.”
The goal of a second uncrewed test flight OFT-2 is to verify the Starliner CST-100 commercial space taxi is safe and reliable enough to be entrusted to launch NASA astronauts in the future to the International Space Station (ISS).
The original OFT test flight failed to dock at the ISS as planned following launch on 20 December 2019 when a mission elapsed timing error caused the maneuvering thruster to fire longer than planned and expend excess precious fuel and place the ship in the wrong orbit.
“Boeing also recently completed the formal requalification of Starliner’s OFT-2 flight software. Teams conducted a full software review and several series of tests to verify Starliner’s software meets design specifications. Boeing also will complete an end-to-end simulation of the OFT-2 test flight using flight hardware and final versions of Starliner’s flight software to model the vehicle’s expected behavior before flight.”
Starliner will launch on the OFT-2 mission on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket augmented with two solid rocket boosters from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
As with OFT the goal is to dock to the space station “and return to land in the western United States about a week later as part of an end-to-end test flight to prove the system is ready to fly crew.”
The failures in the original OFT mission have resulted in about a 1 year delay so far to the goal of flying a crew of 3 NASA astronauts on the inaugural crewed mission to the ISS dubbed CFT or Crew Flight Test.
If all goes will CFT will fly as soon as this summer on a ULA Atlas V from pad 41 for a mission of roughly a week or two docked at the ISS.
Watch Ken’s continuing reports about Starliner, NASA missions, Commercial Crew and Artemis and onsite for live reporting of upcoming and recent SpaceX and ULA launches including Crew 1 & 2, Demo-2, ISS, Starlink, Mars Perseverance and Curiosity rovers, X-37B, Solar Orbiter, NRO spysats and more at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
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Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics.
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