NASA and Boeing are now targeting Thursday, March 25 for the launch of the second uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2) of the Starliner spacecraft. The launch had initially been scheduled for March 29 late last year.
In a January 25 blog post, NASA said that the launch of the mission was brought forward four days after Cape Canaveral’s Eastern Range became available. The agency also pointed to the availability of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V, steady progress on the hardware and software for the mission, and an International Space Station (ISS) docking availability, as contributing factors in its decision.
The Boeing OFT-2 mission was necessitated following the failed maiden flight of the Starliner spacecraft.
The OFT-1 mission was launched aboard an Atlas V N22 rocket on December 19, 2019. Problems started to occur almost immediately after deployment when the Starliner spacecraft failed to automatically fire its booster to push it into a stable orbit.
Boeing ground crew attempted to send manual commands to spacecraft once the problem was identified however, communication issues meant that by the time the burn was successfully completed, an ISS rendezvous was impossible. It was nonetheless placed in stable orbit to enable a successful return to Earth.
During its return, a critical software bug was identified that could have resulted in the destruction of the spacecraft. It was rectified just hours before the capsule began its return to Earth. Following an investigation, it was found that if the first anomaly had not occurred, the fatal software bug would likely not have been discovered.
With the near-disastrous maiden flight, Boeing made the decision to fly a second uncrewed test flight at its own expense to ensure the Starliner spacecraft was safe to carry crews.