Boeing Starliner launch: How to watch NASA-crewed mission lift off

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Boeing’s Starliner aims to launch its crewed maiden voyage on Saturday, a mission that has been a decade in the making.

The new spacecraft is scheduled to lift off atop an Atlas V rocket at 12:25 p.m. ET from the Cape Canaveral space station in Florida. A live stream of the event began at 8:15 a.m. ET on the NASA website.

Weather conditions are 90 percent favorable for launch, with the only concerns being winds and cumulus clouds, according to Mark Burger, launch weather officer with the 45th Weather Squadron at the Cape Canaveral Space Station.

The mission, called Crew Flight Test, is the culmination of Boeing’s efforts to develop a spacecraft capable of rivaling SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule and expanding America’s options for transporting astronauts to the space station as part of the NASA Commercial Crew Program. The federal agency’s initiative aims to promote collaboration with private industry partners.

If successful, the flight would mark only the sixth maiden voyage of a crewed spacecraft in U.S. history, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said at a news conference in may. On board will be veteran NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams.

“It started with Mercury, then Gemini, then Apollo, the Space Shuttle, then (SpaceX’s) Dragon – and now Starliner,” Nelson said.

Williams will also make history as the first woman to participate in such a mission.

After reaching orbit, the Starliner crew capsule carrying Wilmore and Williams will separate from the Atlas V rocket and launch its own engines. Starliner is expected to spend more than 24 hours traveling to the International Space Station, with docking scheduled to take place at 1:50 p.m. ET on Sunday.

The astronauts will test various aspects of Starliner’s capabilities, including the performance of the spacecraft’s thruster, the operation of their spacesuits in the capsule, and manual piloting in case the crew needs to override the spacecraft’s autopilot.

Joe Skipper/Reuters

NASA astronauts Suni Williams (left) and Butch Wilmore pose before launch.

The astronaut duo will join the seven astronauts and cosmonauts already aboard the space station and will spend eight days in the orbiting laboratory.

The astronauts will test Starliner’s “shelter” capability, designed to provide shelter for the space station crew in the event of a problem on the space station, according to Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s commercial crew program, who s was expressed during a press conference on Friday.

When it’s time to return home, Williams and Wilmore will return using the same Starliner capsule and land at a site in the southwest United States.

The earliest possible return for Williams and Wilmore is June 10, but there are other dates available in case of bad weather conditions, Stich said.

If the spacecraft does not lift off as planned on Saturday, there are possibilities for backup launches on June 2, 5 and 6, according to NASA.

Years of development delays, test flight problems and other costly setbacks have slowed Starliner’s path to the launch pad. Meanwhile, Boeing’s competitor in NASA’s commercial program – SpaceX – has become the go-to transportation provider for the space agency’s astronauts.

The mission could be the last major step before NASA considers Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft ready for routine operations to deliver astronauts and cargo to the space station.

“We look forward to carrying out this mission. This is a test flight; we know we’re going to learn things,” Mark Nappi, vice president and program director of the Commercial Crew Program at Boeing, said in a statement. “We are going to get better, and that improvement starts with the Starliner-1 mission and it will be even better than the mission we are about to do.”

Starliner was only about two hours away from its first crewed launch attempt on May 6 when engineers identified a problem with a valve on the second stage, or upper part, of the Atlas V rocket. The stack, including the rocket and spacecraft, was removed from the launch pad for testing and repair.

Then, mission teams reported a small helium leak within the spacecraft’s service module. The leak was traced to a part called a flange on a thruster in the Single Reaction Control System, where helium is used to allow the thrusters to fire.

The space agency said the leak did not pose a threat to any mission.

“We looked very carefully at what our options were with this particular flange,” he said. “A fuel line, an oxidizer line and a helium line all go into the flange, making work difficult. This makes the work almost dangerous. »

Rather than doing a replacement to fix the leak, crews decided the helium leak was small enough to be manageable, Stich said.

“When we looked at this issue, it wasn’t about making trades,” Nappi said. “It came down to, ‘Is this safe or not?’ And it’s safe. And that’s why we decided we could fly with what we had.

During the launch countdown Saturday morning, mission teams monitored the leak and so far no problems have been reported. Teams have spent the past two weeks evaluating acceptable helium leak and troubleshooting levels, which have been defined in the rulebook that engineers will use, Nappi said.

In assessing the helium issue before launch day, engineers also spotted a “design vulnerability” in the propulsion system – essentially identifying a remote scenario in which some thrusters could fail when the vehicle leaves the Earth orbit, without a backup method. get home safely.

NASA and Boeing have since worked with the propellant supplier to develop a contingency plan to carry out the deorbit, should that situation arise, Stich said at a May 24 news conference.

“We restored that redundancy for backup capacity during a very remote set of failures for direct burning,” Stich said.

After a flight readiness review meeting on May 29, leaders from NASA, Boeing and United Launch Alliance, which built the rocket, “checked launch readiness, including including all systems, facilities and teams supporting the test flight,” according to the space agency.

Mission teams also took a close look at Starliner’s parachutes after a parachute from Blue Origin’s recent crewed suborbital flight failed to fully inflate. Starliner uses components similar to this parachute system, Stich said.

Blue Origin shared flight data with Boeing and NASA, and after evaluating Starliner’s parachutes, the team deemed them “good to fly.”

The space station experienced an anomaly Wednesday that Starliner could help correct, said Dana Weigel, NASA’s International Space Station program manager.

A pump on the station’s urine processor has failed.

“This urine processor takes all of the crew’s urine and processes it in the first stage of a water recovery system,” Weigel said. “It then sends it downstream to a water transformer which turns it into drinking water. The resort is truly designed to be a closed loop.

The pump was scheduled to operate until the fall, and a replacement pump was scheduled to fly aboard a cargo resupply mission scheduled for August. But the pump failure “put us in a position where we had to store an awful lot of urine,” Weigel said.

From now on, urine must be stored on board in containers. To resolve this problem, a replacement pump was quickly installed in the Starliner’s cargo. The pump weighs about 150 pounds, so the team removed two crew suitcases from the Starliner carrying clothing and toiletries such as shampoo and soaps handpicked by Wilmore and Williams.

There is an emergency supply of generic clothing and toiletries on the space station that the astronaut duo will use for their short stay instead, Weigel said.

Wilmore and Williams have been in quarantine since late April to protect their health ahead of launch, said NASA astronaut Mike Fincke, who is expected to serve as pilot for the upcoming Boeing Starliner-1 mission that would follow a successful test flight.

“Butch and Suni have every confidence in our rocket, our spacecraft and our operational teams and our management teams, and they are definitely ready to go,” he said.

CNN’s Deblina Chakraborty contributed to this report.

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