The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with the Boeing Starliner spacecraft on board is seen as it rolled out on the launch pad for the OFT-2 mission scheduled for takeoff on May 19, 2022.

Joel Cowski | NASA

Boeing is going to make another attempt to reach the International Space Station on its Starliner capsule Thursday, almost 2 and a half years after the company’s first mission failed.

Boeing is developing its Starliner spacecraft as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew program, winning nearly $ 5 billion in capsule construction contracts. The company is competing as part of a program with SpaceX’s Ilona Maska, who has completed the development of his Crew Dragon spacecraft and is now making his fourth operational manned space flight for NASA.

Over the past three years, Boeing’s development of Starliner has faced several obstacles.

His first unmanned mission in December 2019, called the Arbital Flight Test (OFT), ended prematurely after a software crash capsule ended up in the wrong orbit. Earlier this year, NASA noted, after investigating the issue, that Boeing’s software development “was an area in which we may not have had as much understanding and control as we should have.”

Boeing tried to launch a second orbital test, or OFT-2, in August, but the company discovered a problem with the propulsion valve when the spacecraft was still on the ground. Thirteen of the 24 oxidizer valves that control Starliner’s movement in space were stuck after humidity on the launch pad caused corrosion, and the spacecraft’s service module was replaced.

Now Boeing has applied sealant to the valves and plans to make another attempt to launch OFT-2 on Thursday at 18:54 ET.

The Atlas V rocket from the United Launch Alliance will launch Starliner into orbit when it launches a 24-hour campaign before docking with the ISS. The mission is expected to last a total of several days before the capsule returns to Earth.

The terms of the forecast of the 45th U.S. Space Forces Meteorological Squadron are likely to be clear for launch, with the potential for disruptions due to thunderstorms around Cape Canaveral in Florida. The backup launch is scheduled for Friday, but that day the weather is forecast to worsen.

The decisive test of Boeing

The access arm for the crew of the launch complex-41 goes into position for the Boeing Starliner spacecraft before the launch of the OFT-2 mission, scheduled for May 19, 2022.

Joel Cowski | NASA

Once the aerospace giant was equal to SpaceX in the race to launch NASA astronauts. However, delays in the development of Starliner steadily reject Boeing, both in schedule and in finance.

Due to the fixed price of the contract with NASA, Boeing absorbed the cost of additional work on the capsule, while the company spent $ 595 million.

Last year, NASA took a rare step by reassigning astronauts from Starliner to Crew Dragon from SpaceX. The space agency also last year announced plans to acquire three more manned flights to SpaceX, which will allow Mask to complete its original NASA contract for six flights before Starliner realizes its first.

If the launch of OFT-2 on Thursday is successful, Boeing will be preparing for a flight test with a crew that will see the first astronauts fly to Starliner.

Boeing Vice President Mark Nappi told a news conference before the launch that the company “could potentially be ready” to fly with the crew “by the end of this year.” However, the company is considering whether to redesign the Aerojet Rocketdyne valves on a Starliner, which could further delay it.

NASA Commercial Crew manager Steve Verse said the agency did not see Starliner’s valve overhaul as “a big deal in terms of certification.” NASA will work with Boeing to “find out what tests should take place” in the event of a restructuring, Stitch said, with a schedule yet to be determined of “how long it will take.”

“Personally, I would like to see Starliner fly by after 2030. I would love to see the Dragon fly after 2030. NASA has made huge investments in both of these spacecraft, and they are excellent platforms for entering low Earth orbit, ”Stitch said.

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