Watch Boeing make or break today with Starliner launch –

After years of setbacks and technical difficulties, Boeing’s Starliner orbital spacecraft returns to the launch pad. The space giant will conduct a second test flight of the spacecraft on Thursday as the company aims to remain competitive in the growing space industry and unleash SpaceX’s emerging monopoly on manned missions to the International Space Station.

The CST-100 Starliner will launch aboard the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket, departing NASA’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station later today at 6:54 PM EST. Starliner should reach its provisional orbit 31 minutes after launch; if all goes according to plan, it will dock with the ISS on Friday around 7:10 PM EST. The craft will carry more than 500 pounds of astronaut supplies aboard the station and will return to Earth about 5-8 days later with more than 600 pounds of return cargo.

The Atlas V, ULA’s workhorse rocket that has made 92 successful launches, was configured specifically for this mission. Instead of a cargo fairing, or the nose cone used to protect the cargo from the harsh effects of entering and exiting the Earth’s atmosphere, Starliner is equipped with protective surfaces that perform the same function.

Starliner’s second Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2) comes nearly two and a half years after the first failed attempt in December 2019. During that test flight, a software glitch caused the capsule to miss its target orbit and burn too much fuel; instead of making the rendezvous with the ISS as planned, Starliner hung in alternate orbit for a few days before NASA and Boeing officials gave the go-ahead for its return to Earth.

Boeing originally planned this second test flight for last August, but it had to be scrubbed just four and a half hours before launch after a problem was discovered with more than half of the spacecraft’s oxidation valves.

Achieving this launch is key to Boeing becoming a competitive crew transportation provider for NASA under the agency’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program. NASA (read: taxpayers) has awarded Boeing a total of $4.82 billion to develop a commercial crew transport system, and so far that money has not yielded a single successful mission. The other CCtCap winner, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, has already started transporting astronauts to and from the ISS with the Crew Dragon capsule. The program with SpaceX was so successful that NASA extended SpaceX’s contract with three more manned missions at a cost of $900 million.

It’s unclear what will happen if Boeing doesn’t make it to today’s launch, but it will no doubt include a return to the drawing board and a complete overhaul of the timeline. Suffice it to say, then: today all eyes are on Starliner.