It’s not just upstart startups taking on the space race. Boeing’s in the game with its Starliner crew capsule, which was supposed to be a little further along by now. Quite a bit further along, actually, but the capsule has been grounded since it didn’t manage the orbit it was supposed to in 2019.
Starliner has a shot at redemption this month, however, as 30 July will see the Boeing-designed-and-developed capsule return to space in an attempt to rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS).
Starliner goes a little old-school
NASA has determined, following a flight readiness assessment, that Boeing’s crew transport is ready for another launch. It’s not travelling with Elon Musk’s SpaceX or anything fancy like that. Instead the capsule is heading to space on 30 July atop an Atlas V rocket, a somewhat smaller conveyance developed by Lockheed Martin. The rocket belongs to the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture by Boeing and Lockheed. Guess they want to keep things in-house for this one.
The point, according NASA, is to “…test the end-to-end capabilities of Starliner from launch to docking, atmospheric re-entry, and a desert landing in the western United States.” Based on the test, Starliner might be bound for the ISS as soon as later this year, only this time there will be a crew on board. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon already fulfils this role for NASA but Steve Stich, commercial crew program manager at NASA, said that, “It’s very important for the commercial crew program to have two space transportation systems.” Boeing’s solution could prove to be the redundancy the programs needs.