Starliner launch: Boeing, NASA, ULA target holiday weekend for possible test flight with crew (2024)

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ORLANDO, Fla. - NASA, Boeing, and the United Launch Alliance (ULA) continue preparations for their Crew Flight Test bound for the International Space Station and are now looking at a possible liftoff over the Memorial Day weekend. To accommodate additional testing, the current target for launch is set for no earlier than 3:09 p.m. EDT on Saturday, May 25.

On May 11, the ULA team replaced a pressure regulation valve on the Atlas V rocket's Centaur upper-stage liquid oxygen tank. The team conducted re-pressurization and system purges and successfully tested the new valve, which functioned as expected.

"Pressure testing performed on May 15 on the spacecraft’s helium system showed the leak in the flange is stable and would not pose a risk at that level during the flight," NASA said on the Crew Flight Test blog site.

Both the Atlas V and Starliner remain housed in the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams, presently in preflight quarantine, returned to Houston on May 10 to spend additional time with their families as prelaunch operations progress. The duo will soon return to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Wilmore and Williams are slated to be the inaugural crew launching aboard Boeing's Starliner as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. Their mission will encompass approximately one week at the orbiting laboratory before concluding with a parachute and airbag-assisted landing in the southwestern United States.

Upon the successful culmination of the mission, NASA will commence the final certification process for Starliner and its systems, paving the way for crewed rotation missions to the space station.

Why was Starliner scrubbed?

ULA's launch director decided to cancel the launch that was planned for Monday, May 6, due to concerns regarding an oxygen relief valve on the Atlas V rocket's Centaur upper stage.

"Out of an abundance of caution for the safety of the flight and pad crew, we scrubbed the Crew Flight Test (CFT) launch attempt," ULA said in a statement.

Starliner launch: Boeing, NASA, ULA target holiday weekend for possible test flight with crew (1)

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA, UNITED STATES - MAY 6: The NASA countdown clock is seen ahead of the scheduled launch of NASA's Boeing Starliner spacecraft at the Kennedy Space Center on May 6, 2024 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA astronauts Suni Williams

The scrub came nearly two hours before launch, as a countdown was underway and both astronauts had arrived at the launch site. They safely exited Starliner and returned to crew quarters following the announcement that the launch was scrubbed.

ULA CEO Tory Bruno said the valve was "buzzing" loudly enough that the blue team in the launch tower white room helping the astronauts into the capsule could hear the issue.

Resolving the valve issue would have involved changing the rocket's fueled state, with the crew onboard violating the flight rules. After the crew was off the rocket and the valve was cycled, the buzzing stopped.

The delay allowed engineering teams to spend Tuesday evaluating the data.

Starliner launch: Boeing, NASA, ULA target holiday weekend for possible test flight with crew (2)

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA, UNITED STATES - MAY 6: NASA, United Launch Alliance, and Boeing employees hold a press conference to discuss the scrubbed launch of NASA's Boeing Starliner spacecraft at the Kennedy Space Center on May 6, 2024 in Cape Canaver

When is the next launch window?

NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test now targets sending the Starliner spacecraft to the International Space Station no earlier than 3:09 p.m. EDT on Saturday, May 25.

ULA decided to replace the pressure regulation valve on the liquid oxygen tank on the Atlas V rocket’s Centaur upper stage. NASA said the additional time allows teams to assess a small helium leak in the Boeing Starliner spacecraft’s service module traced to a flange on a single reaction control system thruster.

ULA rolled the rocket, with Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, back to its Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Wednesday, May 8, to begin the replacement.

What's the mission?

According to Boeing, this launch will demonstrate the Starliner's launch-to-landing capabilities and "prove the team’s readiness to achieve NASA certification and fly long-duration missions for the agency."

Wilmore and Williams will participate in human research studies on the physiological impacts of space flight and carry some hardware for future studies. Because this is Boeing's Crew Flight Test (CFT), researchers will pay extra attention to how all systems work.

When the Starliner eventually launches, Wilmore and Williams will take about 26 hours to reach the International Space Station (ISS), where they will stay for about a week.

Who is on board? Meet the crew

Astronauts Sunita "Suni" Williams, 58, and Barry "Butch" Wilmore, 61, are both retired Navy captains going to space for the third time.

Williams spent 322 days on the International Space Station. She was a Navy test pilot and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and Florida Tech.

Starliner launch: Boeing, NASA, ULA target holiday weekend for possible test flight with crew (3)

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA - MAY 06: NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test Commander Butch Wilmore (L) and Pilot Suni Williams walk out of the Operations and Checkout Building on May 06, 2024 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The astronauts are heading to Boeing’s S

Wilmore piloted the space shuttle mission STS-129 and commanded Expedition 42 on the International Space Station. He was a Navy officer and pilot and graduated from Tennessee Tech and the University of Tennessee.

As the CFT crew, the astronauts will test out Starliner's capability to certify the spacecraft for future astronaut missions. As former Navy test pilots, both astronauts say it is an honor.

Click here to learn more about the crew.

How to watch

FOX 35 News will stream the launch live on TV, our FOX 35 News App, FOX Local app, and our website's live stream here.

According to Visit Space Coast's website, there are rocket launch viewing venues in Brevard County for those who would like to see it in person. These include any of the beaches south of Port Canaveral, like Jetty Park, Cocoa Beach, and Sebastian Inlet State Park.

FOX Weather contributed to this report.

Starliner launch: Boeing, NASA, ULA target holiday weekend for possible test flight with crew (2024)

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