Boeing hopes the second try for its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft will be the charm. Starliner is designed to carry astronauts from the US to the International Space Station for NASA, but it's been plagued by technical glitches. On Thursday, Boeing will try again to reach the ISS with a do-over of its uncrewed Orbital Flight Test, or OFT.
NASA TV will livestream coverage of the launch starting at 3 p.m. PT on May 19. Liftoff is scheduled for 3:54 p.m. PT. As of Tuesday, weather was 70% favorable for the launch.
Starliner will catch a lift to space on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, blasting off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The capsule is packed with 800 pounds (360 kilograms) of cargo and should reach the ISS about 24 hours later. No humans will be on board, but a sensor-equipped anthropomorphic test astronaut named Rosie the Rocketeer will go along for the ride.
"OFT-2 will test the end-to-end capabilities of Starliner from launch to docking, atmospheric re-entry, and a desert landing in the western United States," NASA said in a statement on Monday. "OFT-2 will provide valuable data that will help NASA certify Boeing's crew transportation system to carry astronauts to and from the space station."
Starliner will hang out with the ISS for up to 10 days before coming back for a dramatic ground landing. If the spacecraft passes muster this time, NASA will look at sending up a crewed test flight complete with astronauts.
Theand didn't go quite as planned. While Starliner launched and landed safely, it failed to reach the ISS due to a software problem. Boeing planned to retry the launch in 2021, but continued technical difficulties .
Boeing and SpaceX are both part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which aims to bring astronaut launches back to US soil after years of reliance on Russian spacecraft. SpaceX is deep into crew rotation missions, having just sent Crew-4 to the ISS in late April. Boeing has some catching up to do, and OFT-2 is a critical part of getting Starliner on track for actual astronaut missions.