With the huge success of SpaceX’s six crewed launches since 2020, the casual spaceflight observer might have forgotten about Boeing‘s entry into the Commercial Crew Program. They have been quiet for a while, but Boeing has finally announced the launch date for the second try of the Starliner OFT-2 mission.
Boeing announced on April 14 that it had selected May 19 at 6:54 p.m. EDT as the launch date and time of Starliner’s Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2). This mission will send an uncrewed Starliner spacecraft to the International Space Station – this being the final real-world test for the spacecraft before crew ride on it for the first time.
As the mission name implies, OFT-2 is the second attempt for Boeing’s Starliner at this mission. In December of 2019, the first OFT launch successfully made it to space but failed to reach the correct orbit due to a software problem on the spacecraft. However, the spacecraft was safely deorbited and recovered at White Sands Missile Range.
Last July, Boeing attempted to launch OFT-2, but corrosion found in a valve scrubbed the launch attempt and started months of investigation into what caused it and how to fix it. Eventually, the OFT-2 Starliner received a new service module and was slated ready to launch, but it just needed free time at the ISS.
Between crew rotations to the International Space Station, Axiom-1, and resupply missions, free time is a premium on the station at the moment. Hence, Starliner’s OFT-2 launch date is only now being announced for May.
Boeing partners with ULA to launch its Starliner spacecraft on the Atlas V rocket, meaning OFT-2 will launch from ULA’s SLC-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Several years ago, modifications were made to the pad to include a crew access arm and other systems needed for crewed missions.
Hopefully, this time, Boeing gains some good luck, and we can be closer to two certified commercial spacecrafts.