Watch Boeing launch the Starliner spacecraft for NASA on a do-over flight to the International Space Station

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Boeing has so far failed to prove that the spacecraft can fly NASA astronauts, but the aerospace giant is about to try again.

The spacecraft, named CST-100 Starliner, will launch into Earth orbit with cargo on Thursday, but will be uncrewed and fly to the International Space Station (ISS).

NASA awarded Boeing a $4.2 billion contract for the development of the Starliner, so it was a disappointment that the spacecraft’s first flight never reached the ISS due to a software bug. That was over two years ago. After a series of research, upgrades, reviews and delays, the company is finally ready to try again.

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The Starliner spacecraft atop an Atlas V rocket during launch at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on May 18, 2022.


NASA/Kim Shiflett



The Starliner was docked atop an Atlas V rocket and set to roar into the skies above Cape Canaveral, Florida at 18:54 ET.

Watch the flight in the NASA live stream below.

After leaving the rocket, it should fall into orbit around Earth about 31 minutes after launch. It should dock with the ISS for the first time the next evening, Friday at 19:10. The Starliner is scheduled to stay at the station for four or five days before leaving the ship, falling through the atmosphere, and parachuting into a landing in New Mexico.

Boeing falls behind SpaceX after mistakes hinder its first flight

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61016e520d35a90018259a1d?width=600&format=jpeg&auto=webp Watch Boeing launch the Starliner spacecraft for NASA on a do-over flight to the International Space Station

A drawing of the Starliner orbiting the Earth.

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Boeing developed the Starliner spacecraft as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which the Obama administration created in 2011 to restore the nation’s manned spaceflight capabilities. The Space Shuttle Program was over, and NASA was turning to Russian Soyuz rockets to fly its astronauts to and from the ISS.

That reliance on Russian spacecraft continued for a decade as the Commercial Crew Program funded spaceship development at Boeing and SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Elon Musk in 2002.

White and black Dragon 2 space capsule in space with nose cap open.

6285eef50fdb180018cc1889?width=600&format=jpeg&auto=webp Watch Boeing launch the Starliner spacecraft for NASA on a do-over flight to the International Space Station

A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule docked to the ISS.

NASA


The two companies were head-to-head until Starliner’s first orbital test flight in December 2019. The spacecraft went into orbit, but a software error caused it to burn 25% of its fuel immediately after launch. This left the Starliner without sufficient propulsion to reach the ISS and return home, so Boeing ordered the spacecraft to parachute down to Earth. Reviews, upgrades, and more testing.

Meanwhile, SpaceX continued to move forward. The Crew Dragon spacecraft flew its first astronauts to the ISS in May 2020. It was a test flight and it went smoothly. A few months later, the company was transporting its first routine crew of astronauts to the ISS for a full six-month stay there. Now SpaceX is in the midst of its fourth astronaut mission for NASA and is also flying tourists into space.

The Starliner was almost ready to launch again in August 2021. It was piled up on the rocket on the launch pad when Boeing uncovered 13 malfunction valves on the spacecraft. It was then returned to the factory for further testing and upgrades.

If the flight goes well this weekend, Boeing will still have to analyze data from the mission and complete a series of certification reports and tests. Then Starliner must successfully complete one final test flight to the ISS – this time with astronauts on board.