May 18, 2022 2 mins, 18 secs

Running years late, Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule program is poised for a crucial unpiloted test flight to the International Space Station set for launch Thursday, a do-over of an abbreviated 2019 demo mission that has cost the aerospace contractor nearly $600 million.

The Starliner crew capsule is scheduled for liftoff on the Orbital Flight Test 2, or OFT-2 mission, from Cape Canaveral at 6:54 p.m.

The test flight is intended to gather data and prove the readiness of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft to transport astronauts to and from the space station.

It’s a redo of the OFT-1 mission in December 2019, which was cut short by software woes that caused the Starliner capsule to burn through propellant shortly after launch.

Developed in a public-private partnership, the Starliner spacecraft will give NASA a second human-rated capsule capable of ferrying astronauts to and from the space station, alongside SpaceX’s Dragon spaceship, which launched with a crew for the first time in May 2020.

The problems on the 2019 flight prevented the Starliner spacecraft from reaching the space station, and Boeing commanded the capsule to re-enter the atmosphere and land in New Mexico two days later.

After rewriting parts of the Starliner software code and running it through more extensive testing, Boeing and NASA moved forward with preparations for the OFT-2 mission — a test flight added to the Starliner schedule at Boeing’s expense.

The spacecraft was rolled to the launch pad last August at Cape Canaveral atop its Atlas 5 rocket.

The company says it is considering design changes to the oxidizer isolation valves — potentially reducing the amount of aluminum in the valve housing — for future Starliner missions, but officials are “confident” in the mitigations introduced to prevent moisture intrusion before the OFT-2 launch.

After the test flights are accomplished, NASA has booked operational six crew rotation fights with Boeing using the Starliner spacecraft.

The Starliner spacecraft set for launch Thursday on Boeing’s OFT-2 mission won’t have an astronaut crew on-board.

The Starliner will also carry more than 500 pounds (227 kilograms) of food and other supplies for the seven-person crew on the space station, according to NASA.

The capsule’s launch abort system will be active for the first time on the OFT-2 mission.

After liftoff, the Atlas 5’s two strap-on boosters and Russian-made core engine will generate 1.6 million pounds of thrust to send the Starliner spacecraft toward space.

The Atlas 5 is programmed to fly a flatter, less steep trajectory that it flies on typical satellite delivery missions, increasing opportunities for the Starliner crew capsule to safely escape from the rocket in the event of a failure.

The astronauts on the space station will open hatches and enter the Starliner spacecraft Saturday, remove the cargo inside the pressurized crew cabin, and perform communications checkouts in the cockpit

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