Boeing OFT-2 Starliner is set to return today

After a short stay at the space station, Boeing’s OFT-2 Starliner will undock and return to Earth Wednesday. Below is how and when to watch the conclusion of, hopefully, Boeing’s final uncrewed test flight.

Boeing’s OFT-2 mission is set to close with a cushioned landing at White Sands Space Harbour at the Army’s White Sands Missile Range. Undocking is set to occur tomorrow at 2:36 p.m. EDT from the station. Following that, Boeing plans a primary target for landing later that night at 6:49 p.m. EDT. Boeing’s secondary date for the landing is Friday, May 27.

Landing on land means Starliner features cushioning airbags that inflate shortly before landing. This landing system differs from Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, which uses small retro motors that slow the spacecraft down. China’s Shenzhou spacecraft uses a similar system as it takes much of its design from the Soyuz. Boeing’s Starliner will be the first American space capsule to land back on land versus splashing down in the ocean.

Boeing Starliner OFT-2 landing timeline

2:36:00 p.m. EDTUndocking
3:00:50 p.m. EDTKeep-out-sphere exit
3:33:50 p.m. EDTApproach Ellipsoid exit
6:05:07 p.m. EDTDeorbit burn start
6:06:05 p.m. EDTDeorbit burn end
6:08:46 p.m. EDTService module separation
6:33:25 p.m. EDTAtmospheric entry
6:35:54 p.m. EDTPlasma heating begins
6:40:26 p.m. EDTPlasma heating ends
6:44:21 p.m. EDTHeat shield jettison (altitude: 4.6 miles)
6:44:23 p.m. EDTDrogue chute deploy (altitude: 4.4 miles)
6:45:33 p.m. EDTMain parachute deploy (altitude: 1.5 miles)
6:49:07 p.m. EDTLanding

NASA will begin undocking coverage at 2:00 p.m. EDT and break coverage once Starliner ends joint operations with the International Space Station. Coverage will continue at 5:45 p.m. EDT for deorbit burn and continue through landing. Finally, NASA will air coverage of the post-landing press conference with NASA program managers, NASA astronaut Suni Williams, and Boeing’s program manager Mark Nappi.

NASA OFT-2 landing coverage

2:00 p.m. EDTNASA coverage of Starliner undocking begins
~ 3:30 p.m EDTNASA breaks coverage
5:45 p.m. EDTCoverage resumes for Starliner deorbit and landing
9:00 p.m. EDTPost landing press conference

The landing of Starliner tomorrow, or later in the week, will complete the Orbital Flight Test 2 mission. If everything goes to plan, this will be Boeing’s final uncrewed test flight of its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, opening up the opportunity for a crewed test flight towards the end of 2022.

Boeing has had a rough road with getting Starliner certified to fly humans, and there will still be some items to clear with NASA from this flight. Starliner suffered several failed thrusters on its journey to the ISS that will need to be investigated and a suboptimal cooling system to be examined. So while the OFT-2 mission will end this week, the work will continue for Boeing to get Starliner ready for its Crewed Flight Test.

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