It was a perfect launch from a ULA rocket Thursday night at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Boeing Starliner spacecraft payload is now en route to the International Space Station, despite a bumpy orbital puncture burn. The capsule will attempt to dock at the orbital outpost at 7:10 p.m. EDT today, and you can watch it live here.
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner has already entered orbit in orbit that will carry the uncrewed capsule to the International Space Station. During an earlier test in 2019, Starliner failed to achieve its proper orbit due to a software automation flaw that caused it to perform an unnecessary orbital insertion burn. But despite a propulsion problem during the orbital insertion yesterday, Starliner is still on track to meet the ISS at its expected time.
The reusable spacecraft is expected to reach the forward port of the space station’s Harmony module at 7:10 p.m. May 20. Live coverage of the automated docking process will be available on NASA TV and YouTube, as well as the live feed below. The broadcast is expected to begin at 3:30 p.m. EDT.
The current mission, Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2), is a critical step toward certifying Starliner as an astronaut-friendly spacecraft. Under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, the space agency plans to purchase two platforms to transport its astronauts to the ISS. One of these, the SpaceX Crew Dragon, is already in action. Boeing is now under pressure to live up to its contractual obligation and fix many issues that have plagued the project – hence the importance of the current ISS docking station.
Now in orbit, Starliner will make minor course adjustments to reach the same trajectory as the ISS. Once it gets close to the station, the spacecraft will pause before entering the 656-foot (200 meters) “keep out sphere,” during which time flight controllers assess Starliner’s alignment and readiness to dock, according to the mission profile.
Starliner will then begin docking and pause again within 10 meters of the station. The final approach and autonomous docking to an International Docking Adapter follow this step. A “unique vision-based navigation system used to dock autonomously with the revolving platform and the new docking system coverage will be thoroughly tested,” Boeing said. This should happen shortly after 7:00 p.m. EDT tonight, with the hatch opening scheduled for May 21 at 11:45 a.m. EDT.
The 4.57 m wide CST-100 Starliner is designed to carry seven passengers. In addition, the spacecraft will have more than 363 kg of cargo, including food and supplies for the current ISS crew. No people came along for this trip, but one seat was occupied by Rosie the Rocketeer – a test dummy equipped with 15 different sensors.
Starliner will be tethered to the station for approximately five to 10 days, after which it will attempt an unmanned atmospheric reentry and parachute-assisted landing in the western United States.