Cape CanaveralCommercial CrewInternational Space StationNASA

Atlas V stacking complete ahead of the second flight test of Boeing’s Starliner

OFT-2’s dual-engine Centaur upper stage makes its way to ULA’s vertical integration facility for stacking operations. Credit: United Launch Alliance

JULY 15, 2021–Boeing, United Launch Alliance, and NASA are currently underway with preparations for the launch of the Boeing Orbital Flight Test 2 (OFT-2) mission. OFT-2 will be the second uncrewed test flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The launch date of OFT-2 is currently scheduled for July 30, 2021, at 2:53 p.m. EDT.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft launches from Space Launch Complex 41, Friday, Dec. 20, 2019, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. After a successful launch at 6:36 a.m. EST, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is in an unplanned, but stable orbit. The team is assessing what test objectives can be achieved before the spacecraft’s return to land in White Sands, New Mexico. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

This mission follows the first orbital flight test, OFT-1, which ended prematurely after an anomaly with the mission elapsed time clock onboard Starliner caused the spacecraft to burn towards an incorrect orbit. Since this error consumed the propellant margins required to perform the rest of the original mission, the decision was made to cancel plans for an ISS rendezvous and docking. Following the partial failure, Boeing and NASA held an investigation into the anomaly and introduced various updates to the spacecraft to be debuted on this second flight test.

The OFT-2 Starliner. Credit: Boeing

At the time of writing, the yet-to-be-named Starliner for OFT-2 has been fully fueled at Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) at the Kennedy Space Center. Over by ULA’s Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) adjacent to the launch site, ULA has just completed assembly of the Atlas V N22 launch vehicle. This specific configuration of the Atlas V will be utilizing two AJ60 solid rocket boosters and a dual-engine Centaur upper stage.

With launch vehicle integration complete, Boeing will be rolling out the OFT-2 Starliner from the C3PF over to Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) in the coming days. Once at the VIF, Starliner will be hoisted up and integrated to Atlas V via the launch vehicle adapter, readying Atlas V and Starliner for flight.

Several days prior to launch, ULA will move the mobile launch platform with the fully integrated Atlas V N22 and Starliner over to SLC-41, where the first stage will be fully fueled with RP-1. From there, ULA, Boeing, and NASA are expected to be performing a wet dress rehearsal and flight readiness review in the days ahead of launch. Assuming all goes well, Atlas V and Starliner will proceed to launch the OFT-2 mission.

OFT-2 Flight Milestones. Credit: Oxcart Assembly

Once in orbit, Starliner will be performing a series of burns to rendezvous with the ISS while also testing a number of different systems in preparation for its future crewed flights. In addition to fixes from the first orbital flight test, this flight will also be debuting a new hinged nose cone to help further protect the capsule on re-entry, reducing refurbishment and processing times post-flight. After arrival at the ISS, the spacecraft will automatically dock to the station’s forward-facing docking port (PMA-2) where it will stay for a minimum of five days. Following its stay at the ISS, Starliner will then undock and begin its return back to Earth.

Starliner Calypso shortly after touchdown at the end of the OFT-1 mission. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

After its fiery dive into Earth’s atmosphere, the capsule will make a soft landing at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico to complete the OFT-2 mission. After touchdown, the Starliner capsule will be returned to the C3PF in Florida to undergo refurbishment and processing for its next flight. Assuming all goes well with OFT-2, this will allow Boeing and NASA to proceed towards the first crewed flight test of the CST-100 Starliner currently planned for no earlier than late 2021.

An Atlas V first stage being offloaded from ULA’s RS Rocketship ahead of the first crewed flight test of Starliner later this year. Credit: Space Scout/Sean (Deimos)

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