Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Boeing's Starliner Capsule Stacked for May Flight

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner Capsule was rolled to the launch pad today, April 16, and stacked on its Atlas V booster for its long-awaited Crewed Flight Test. 

The spacecraft rolled out from Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center to Space Launch Complex 41 in the early morning hours April 16. The spacecraft was hoisted into place atop the Atlas 5 rocket in the Vertical Integration Facility building there later in the day.

The rollout is the latest milestone in preparations for the Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission, which will launch no earlier than the evening of May 6. NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams will be on board, flying Starliner to the International Space Station. They will remain on the station for about eight days before boarding Starliner for a return to Earth, landing in the southwestern United States.

Launch is currently scheduled for May 6 at 10:34PM EDT. Next Spaceflight notes that this will be the first manned launch from a Cape Canaveral SFS launch pad since Apollo 7 in October 1968, and first ever launch of humans from SLC-41. (Need I point out there was no Space Force (as in SFS) in 1968?) All manned launches for the rest of the Apollo program, Skylab, the Shuttle and everybody launched from 1968 through the current crew rotation missions that resumed in 2020 have been from the Kennedy Space Center side.

As we've noted before, if the launch is delayed a day or two, the liftoff time will move earlier by about 23 minutes per day of delay (due to the Space Station's orbit).

The launch is 13 days short of exactly one year since the last flight of a Starliner, Orbital Flight Test 2, or OFT-2, on May 19, 2022.  In terms of performance, OFT-2 was light years ahead of the first flight test, in December of '19. OFT-1 was so embarrassingly bad they were lucky to get the Starliner capsule back. Boeing's Starliner, like SpaceX's Crew Dragon, was bid as a firm, fixed price contract, and the delays due to their OFT-1 failures along with the many delays since then, have cost the company a lot. I've read as much as $1 billion.

At a March 22 briefing, Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager for Starliner at Boeing, said the key purpose of CFT is to see how spacecraft systems perform with a crew on board. “We flew OFT-2, and that was the uncrewed mission for the Starliner vehicle, and it was very successful. Now we introduce humans.”

Most of the flight test objectives, he said, are devoted to answering “does the vehicle perform with the human in the loop as expected?” That includes various environmental systems, control interfaces and the ability of the astronauts to take manual control of the spacecraft if needed.

A successful OFT-2 would allow NASA to certify Starliner for regular crew rotation flights, currently launched by SpaceX and Roscosmos in Russia. The first crew rotation using Starliner isn't likely until 2025 with a very successful test flight. The better the flight, the earlier in '25.

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner rolls out of its processing facility in the predawn hours of April 16. Image Credit: Boeing


  1. Brings back memories. I watched Payload Rollout for 23 payloads, and you definitely feel the excitement each time.

  2. My answer to flying on THAT thing is, "Nope. Nopety-nope. Heck nope. Nu-uh. Here's my Astronaut card, I'm quitting and going into professional bull riding as that's safer."

    I hope it works out well. I really do. But Boeing has burned pretty much all the trust it has built over the last umpty 10 years.

    1. If it's Boeing, I ain't going!

      In the last 20+ years since the ex-McDonald-Douglas management took over Boeing, Boeing has been in a slow motion implosion doing it the MD way.

    2. Well, I hope it wasn't built by the same folks who brought us the 737 MAX or the Nightmareliner.

  3. I hope our fears are dispelled and the Starliner has many missions. Dream Chaser comes online, Starliner, Dragon and Starship; 2024 will be a busy year.

  4. I apologize in advance. I haven't much success in keeping track of who's who.
    It looks like Boing get a crewed launch after less testing than that of Space X. If so, why?

    Also, is the historic VAB now the VIF? Does this indicate modifications or some changes to the building?

    1. "It looks like Boing get a crewed launch after less testing than that of Space X. If so, why?"

      Quite the opposite really. The December 2019 OFT-1 test mentioned in the article was Boeing's attempt at a test that SpaceX aced and put them well behind SpaceX. SpaceX has been certified to launch Astronauts since the spring of '20 and has been launching crews since May of '20. Boeing had to repeat that OFT-1 flight, a second test (which SpaceX also aced) and is still not certified or man-rated. It won't be until they pass the tests SpaceX did.

      Both were fixed price contracts. SpaceX completed it and Boeing has been losing money on it arguably since that December of 2019 failed test.

      "Also, is the historic VAB now the VIF?"

      Nope. The VIF is a small building near SLC-41 where the Atlas V lifts off from. Think of it as a hanger. I'm not sure where the Vulcan flies from, and since Starliner will shift to the Vulcan once those are certified, it may be closer to that pad.

  5. It's been almost two full years since the launch of OFT-2 and a successful CFT would allow NASA to certify Starliner for regular crew rotation flights.
    Both Atlas V and Vulcan launch from the same pad at SLC-41 and both share the VIF (Vertical Integration Facility).

    1. Thanks for adding that clarification on SLC-41!