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Boeing’s Starliner capsule cleared for launch on ULA’s Atlas V — ‘We are ready to fly’

Teams from NASA and Boeing completed the flight readiness review on Thursday for the Starliner space capsule’s upcoming trip to the International Space Station (ISS).

The unmanned Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) is set to launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Giving Starliner a lift will be United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V rocket. The Atlas V was built at the company’s 1.6 million square foot manufacturing facility in Decatur. Boeing’s design center in Huntsville has provided all of the structural design for the Starliner, while its Phantom Works division, which has an operation in Huntsville, has provided the power systems for the capsule.

Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator, announced completion of the review at a press conference with Boeing officials.

“These are very important reviews where the station and commercial crew and Boeing teams really stop and scrutinize the work that they have done to get ready for this flight,” Lueders outlined. “After reviewing the team’s data and the readiness of all the parties, everyone said ‘go’ for launch, today, and moving on for the mission. It was an incredibly detailed review and the team really showed all the work that they have done to get us here.”

OFT-2 is the final test before Starliner carries crew into space.

Establishing Starliner as a qualified spacecraft to carry astronauts to the ISS is essential to the program, according to Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

“It is very important for the commercial crew program to have two space transportation systems,” he said. “This will be the second of those.”

SpaceX’s Dragon is already qualified for the program and has flown with crew. It returned to Earth from its most recent mission to the ISS on July 9.

In an effort to maximize the testing opportunities of this flight, ULA’s Atlas V rocket has been configured exactly the same as it will be for crewed flights.

Stich noted that numerous systems will be tested as part of OFT-2, including the rendezvous and docking systems.

“Boeing and NASA teams have worked side-by-side to resolve numerous issues to go through and close our requirements,” he said. “We’re ready to go flying now. It’s an exciting time. This mission is key to the crewed flight.”

A thorough review of the Starliner’s software and hardware has been an ongoing process for Boeing.

“This is not the first day we have been working on readiness,” stated John Vollmer, vice president and program manager for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program. “We have literally been working on this for months and months. And so this is really the culmination of a lot of hard work by all the teams.”

“We are ready to fly,” he concluded.

A successful OFT-2 will allow NASA and Boeing to move forward with the Starliner’s first crewed mission later this year. NASA astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore, Nicole Mann and Mike Fincke have already been selected for the flight to the ISS, a mission which will extend more than two decades of human presence on the orbiting research facility.

In anticipation of their flight, the astronauts have been actively engaged in the readiness process.

Norm Knight, director of NASA’s Flight Operations Directorate, provided his perspective on what OFT-2 will mean for the upcoming crewed flight.

“Spaceflight is hard,” he explained. “It’s definitely not easy. I will just tell you that the crew greatly appreciates the effort by NASA, Boeing and the ULA partnership for safe space flight for our astronauts.”

OFT-2 is scheduled to launch on July 30 and dock at the ISS 24 hours later. It will stay at the ISS until August 5 and return to Earth on the same day with a landing in the New Mexico desert.

It will carry cargo on both legs of its trip.

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Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia