Liftoff of Boeing's Starliner Crew Flight Test. Credits: United Launch Alliance

Starliner Finally Launched with a Crew Onboard

After many delays a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V N22 rocket successfully delivered into orbit the Starliner spacecraft for the Boeing Crew Flight Test

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V N22 rocket successfully delivered into orbit the Starliner spacecraft for the Boeing Crew Flight Test.

After many delays, the launch finally took place at 14:52 UTC on June 5, 2024, from SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

Liftoff of Boeing's Starliner Crew Flight Test. Credits: United Launch Alliance
Liftoff of Boeing’s Starliner Crew Flight Test. Credits: United Launch Alliance

On board the Starliner “Calypso” spacecraft there are two NASA astronauts and former Navy test pilots: Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams. The mission goal is to validate the transportation system with astronauts. Afterward, regular rotation missions for Starliner should start in 2025 with Starliner-1.

The spacecraft will spend a week docked with the International Space Station.


The crew

NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore. Credits: NASA/Robert Markowitz

Barry Wilmore is serving as spacecraft Commander.

NASA selected him to join the astronaut class number 18 in July 2000 and is a veteran of two spaceflights (STS-129 and Soyuz TMA-14M), with a total of 178 days spent in space.

Barry Wilmore holds a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering, and a master’s degree in Aviation Systems.

He is also a test pilot who graduated from the United States Naval Test Pilot School.

Sunita Williams is serving as the spacecraft Pilot.

NASA selected her to join astronaut class number 17 (August 1998) and is a veteran of two spaceflights (STS-116/117 and Soyuz TMA-05M) with a total of 322 days spent in space and seven spacewalks.

Sunita Williams holds a bachelor’s degree in Physical Science from the U.S. Naval Academy and a master’s degree in Engineering Management from the Florida Institute of Technology.

She has also logged more than 3000 flight hours in over 30 different aircraft.

NASA astronaut Sunita Williams. Credits: NASA/Robert Markowitz


The mission

The crewed test is to demonstrate the performance of crew equipment including suit, seat performance, and life support systems. The capsule will dock to ISS’s Harmony module forward-facing port. Said docking will take place approximately 24 hours after lift-off.

The astronauts will evaluate the approach, rendezvous, and docking system. Additionally, the crew will test the spacecraft thruster performance for manual abort scenarios. They will also conduct communication checkouts, and test manual and automated navigation.

Sunita Williams and Barry Wilmore in front of Boeing Starliner Spacecraft. Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett
Sunita Williams and Barry Wilmore. Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams will work with the Expedition 71 crew for about a week to check the spacecraft, its displays, and cargo transfer systems. They will also close the hatch between Starliner and the ISS to demonstrate the spacecraft’s ability to act as a “safe ship” in the case of an ISS depressurization or space debris threat.

After about one week, the spacecraft will undock, and the crew will test the manual piloting system. They will then switch back to autonomous operations before the re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere and landing.


Several delays

Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Dragon were selected by NASA to build a spacecraft to replace the retired Space Shuttle, as part of the Commercial Crew Program (CCP). Thus, they would no longer have to rely solely on the Russian Soyuz to reach the ISS.

The Boeing Crew Flight Test is the third launch of the Starliner capsule.

The first mission, Orbital Flight Test, was launched in 2019 but failed to reach the International Space Station (ISS) due to an anomaly with the spacecraft’s Mission Elapsed Time (MET) clock which caused an incorrect activation of the thrusters.

The second launch attempt (Orbital Flight Test 2) in 2022 was a success overall: the spacecraft docked to the ISS and landed back on Earth meeting flight requirements for a future crewed launch.

Starliner spacecraft reaching che International Space Station. Credits: Samantha Cristoforetti
Starliner spacecraft reaching the International Space Station. Credits: Samantha Cristoforetti

The crewed launch, planned for summer 2023, was delayed until today due to some issues with the parachute system, batteries, and flammable parts.

However, a problem with a pressurization valve in the ULA’s Atlas V rocket led to the launch being scrubbed, initially postponing it from May 6 to May 17. But as if that wasn’t enough, technicians discovered a helium leak in the propulsion system of the capsule in the meantime. After another delay to allow engineers to conduct thorough analyses, NASA determined that the problem was not critical to the continuation of the mission and that hardware intervention would have caused a delay of several months. The liftoff was thus rescheduled for June 1.

An issue with a single ground power supply during the countdown has led to scrub of the June 1 launch attempt. The faulty ground power unit was then replaced and liftoff was rescheduled to June 5.


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Benedetta Facini

Benedetta Facini

Italian physics student and aspiring astronaut.
I talk about space and astronauts on social media

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