Boeing Starliner launch: How to watch the launch of NASA-crewed mission?

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Boeing’s Starliner is aiming to launch its first crewed flight on Saturday, a mission that has been a decade in the making.

The new spacecraft is expected to lift off atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 12:25 p.m. ET. A livestream of the event began at 8:15 a.m. ET. NASA website,

According to Mark Berger, launch weather officer for the 45th Weather Squadron at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, weather conditions are 90% favorable for the launch, with only winds and cumulus clouds being of concern.

The mission, called the Crew Flight Test, is the culmination of Boeing’s effort to develop a spacecraft that can compete with the US space agency. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule and expanding U.S. options for delivering astronauts to the space station under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The federal agency’s initiative is aimed at fostering collaboration with private industry partners.

If successful, the flight will mark the sixth manned spaceflight in U.S. history, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said at a news conference in May. Veteran NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams will also be aboard.

“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 by becoming the first woman to fly on such a mission.

After reaching orbit, the Starliner crew capsule carrying Wilmore and Williams will separate from the Atlas V rocket and turn on its engines. Starliner is expected to take just over 24 hours to reach the International Space Station, with docking expected to take place at 1:50 p.m. ET on Sunday.

The astronauts will test various aspects of Starliner’s capabilities, including the spacecraft’s thruster performance, the functioning of their spacesuits inside the capsule, and manual piloting if 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 pair will join seven astronauts and cosmonauts already on the space station and will spend eight days aboard the orbiting lab.

According to Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, who told a press conference on Friday that the astronauts will test the Starliner’s “safe haven” capability, which is designed to provide shelter for the space station crew if there is a problem on the space station.

When it is time to return home, Williams and Wilmore will return using the same Starliner capsule and land at a location in the southwestern United States.

Stich said the earliest possible return for Williams and Wilmore is June 10, but other dates are available in the event of inclement weather.

According to NASA, if the spacecraft cannot fly as planned on Saturday, there are backup launch opportunities on June 2, June 5 and June 6.

Years of development setbacks, test flight problems and other costly setbacks have slowed Starliner’s path to the launchpad. Meanwhile, Boeing’s competitor under NASA’s commercial program – SpaceX – has become the largest provider of transportation For the space agency’s astronauts.

The mission could mark the final major milestone before NASA deems Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft ready for regular operations to deliver astronauts and cargo to the space station.

“We’re looking forward to flying this mission. This is a test flight; we know we’re going to learn some things,” Mark Nappe, vice president and program manager for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program, said in a statement. “We’re going to make improvements, and those improvements start with the Starliner-1 mission and will be even better with the mission we’re going to fly.”

Starliner was just 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 stage, of the Atlas V rocket. The entire stack, including the rocket and spacecraft, was brought back from the launchpad for testing and repairs.

Then, mission teams reported a small leak of helium in the spacecraft’s service module. The leak was traced to a part called a flange on the single reaction control system thruster, where helium is used to fire the thruster.

The space agency said the leak posed no threat to the mission.

“We considered our options very carefully with this particular flange,” he said. “A fuel line, an oxidizer line and a helium line all go into the flange, making it problematic to work on. It makes it almost unsafe to work on.”

Rather than make a replacement to fix the leak, teams decided the helium leak was small enough to be contained, Stich said.

“When we looked at this problem, it wasn’t just about doing business. It was about, ‘Is this safe or not?’ And it is safe. And that’s why we decided we could move forward with what we have,” Nappi said.

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

While evaluating the helium problem before launch day, engineers also found a “design vulnerability” in the propulsion system — essentially identifying a remote scenario in which some thrusters could fail while the spacecraft was leaving Earth orbit, and there would be no backup way to return safely.

At a May 24 news conference, Stich said NASA and Boeing, along with the thruster vendor, have worked on a backup plan to perform a deorbit burn if such a situation arises.

“We’ve restored that redundancy for backup capability in very remote failures for a direct burn,” Stech said.

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

Mission teams also took a close look at Starliner’s parachutes, as one on Blue Origin’s recent suborbital crewed flight failed to fully inflate. Starliner used components similar to the parachute system, Stich said.

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

Dana Weigel, manager of NASA’s International Space Station program, said there was an anomaly on the space station on Wednesday that Starliner could help fix.

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

“This urine processor takes all of the crew’s urine and processes it in the first stage of the water recovery system,” Weigel said. “Then it sends it downstream to a water processor that turns it into drinking water. The station is really designed as a closed loop.”

The pump was expected to work until the fall, and a replacement pump was slated to fly for a cargo supply mission in August. But the pump’s failure “put us in a situation where we have to store a lot of urine,” Weigel said.

Now, the urine would have to be stored in containers on the ship itself. To solve this problem, a replacement pump was quickly stashed in the Starliner’s cargo. The pump weighs about 150 pounds, so the team removed two crew suitcases from the Starliner, containing clothing and toiletries such as shampoo and soap chosen by Wilmore and Williams.

Weigel said the space station has a contingency supply of normal clothing and toiletries, which the astronaut pair will use during their short stay.

Wilmore and Williams have been in crew quarantine since late April to protect their health ahead of launch, said NASA astronaut Mike Finke, who is scheduled to serve as pilots for the upcoming Boeing Starliner-1 mission following a successful test flight.

“Butch and Suni have full confidence in our rocket, our spacecraft and our operations teams and leadership management teams, and they are certainly ready to move forward,” he said.

CNN’s Deblina Chakraborty contributed to this report.


Disclaimer : The content in this article is for educational and informational purposes only.

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