The Boeing Starliner capsule is trying again to reach the International Space Station (ISS) overnight from Friday to Saturday. If successful, it would be a major achievement for Boeing, which has been plagued with problems so far.
Starliner, if all goes well, will perform an unmanned flight and dock with the ISS. This is Boeing’s second attempt. In December 2019, the launch ended in disappointment: the capsule did not enter the correct orbit to reach the ISS. It later turned out that it had to do with errors in the software.
A second attempt was slow in coming. Boeing was preparing Starliner for a rematch in August, but the launch was canceled hours in advance due to technical issues. The capsule was returned to Boeing for repair.
The issues are now resolved and the Starliner capsule is making another flight Friday night. The capsule will be mounted on an Atlas V rocket from the United Launch Alliance (a collaboration between Boeing and Lockheed Martin).
The new attempt will bring supplies to astronauts aboard the space station. The capsule holds 180 kilograms of food and other items on board.
Competitor for SpaceX
In 2014, NASA signed contracts with SpaceX and Boeing to develop spacecraft capable of carrying astronauts to the ISS. This as part of the Commercial Crew program. SpaceX’s capsule is called Crew Dragon and has taken astronauts to and from the ISS several times.
Boeing thus comes to compete with the SpaceX capsule. It’s good for NASA that there are several suppliers of space capsules. The American space organization no longer has to buy seats for the Russian Soyuz capsules. And if something happens to SpaceX or Boeing, the organization can more easily switch to the other side. NASA has stopped its own space shuttle program since 2011.