American aerospace giant Boeing is making a third attempt to reach the International Space Station in a critical uncrewed test flight for its Starliner capsule. It has been beset by numerous failures and false starts. Lift-off for Orbital Test Flight 2 (OFT-2) is scheduled for 6:54 pm Eastern Time from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The mission’s success is key to repairing Boeing’s frayed reputation after the first bid which failed to dock with the ISS due to software bugs. One of the led to it burning too much fuel to reach its destination and another that could have destroyed the vehicle during re-entry.
A second try was scheduled in August of last year. But it was rolled back from the launchpad to address sticky valves that weren’t opening as they should. The capsule was eventually sent back to the factory for fixes. Boeing and NASA say the drama is now behind them.NASA is looking to certify Starliner as a second “taxi” service for its astronauts to the space station.
Both companies were awarded fixed-price contracts which are $4.2 billion to Boeing and $2.6 billion to SpaceX. It happened shortly after the end of the Space Shuttle program. It was a time when the United States was left reliant on Russian Soyuz rockets for rides to the orbital outpost.
Boeing and its hundred-year history was considered by many as the sure-shot. But the upstart SpaceX was less proven. It is SpaceX that rocketed ahead and recently sent its fourth routine crew to the research platform. Boeing’s development delays have cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars.
Starliner should dock with the ISS about 24 hours after launch and deliver more than 500 pounds (226 kilograms) of cargo. This includes food and provisions like clothes and sleeping bags for the current crew on the station.