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Update: Liftoff of the ULA Atlas V rocket at 6:54 p.m. EDT! The rocket successfully delivered the Boeing Starliner to an optimal orbit for the OFT-2 mission. Minutes later the Starliner completed a crucial burn positioning itself in a safe orbit destined to meet up with the International Space Station about 24 hours later. Read our full post-launch story here.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is set to launch Boeing's Orbital Flight Test 2 mission featuring a Starliner capsule from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Thursday evening.
Liftoff of the uncrewed redo of a previously failed test flight is scheduled for 6:54 p.m. ET from Launch Complex 41 – and it's crucial for NASA and Boeing teams to get right.
OFT-2 serves as an end-to-end test of the Starliner capsule's capability to safely transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station for NASA's Commercial Crew Program.
It features a test dummy nicknamed "Rosie the Rocketeer" that will collect crucial data about experiences that astronauts can expect to endure during future Starliner missions. The spacecraft will also deliver about 800 pounds of cargo to the crew currently aboard the ISS.
After being docked with the ISS for about five days, Starliner will depart the station and begin its journey home. After re-entering Earth's atmosphere, it will land under a parachute canopy at the Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
Starliner's journey to the ISS is just one part of the equation for the Eastern Range. Just a day before on Wednesday, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center with the company's 48th batch of Starlink internet satellites. Liftoff happened just after sunrise at 6:59 a.m. EDT.
Then a few hours after SpaceX, ULA began the process of rolling the Atlas V rocket and Starliner capsule from the company's Vertical Integration Facility at LC-41 to the pad itself. The rocket and its mobile platform typically make the third-of-a-mile trek in about an hour.
If successful, OFT-2 will give NASA and Boeing teams the opportunity to collect valuable information about Starliner's docking and undocking sequences with the ISS which were forfeited when the OFT-1 mission was prematurely called off in December 2019.
Just after a successful liftoff, a timing error caused by software failures required Boeing and NASA to abandon Starliner's first attempt to dock with the ISS and instead bring the capsule home for an early landing.
After months of rectifying software issues and enduring scheduling conflicts because of a pattern of heavy space traffic at the ISS, NASA, Boeing, and ULA teams managed to target another launch attempt in August 2021.
As the spacecraft endured days of delays sitting on the launch pad in the harsh summer environment ambient moisture in the air caused corrosion of some of the valves on the Starliner capsule.
The second attempt was ultimately canceled and the spacecraft was returned to Boeing's factory for hardware replacement.
In the months since, Boeing teams have been able to devise a short-term fix for the valve corrosion issue, but a long-term solution is yet to be determined. Boeing leadership said there is a possibility of a complete redesign of the valve system, which would affect all future launches of Starliner capsules.
A successful OFT-2 mission is one of two final hurdles that Starliner needs to clear before NASA certifies it as a human-rated spacecraft capable of transporting astronauts.
The Crewed Test Flight, Starliner's final hurdle that will ferry two NASA astronauts to the ISS for a week's stay, is slated to follow OFT-2 and is expected sometime before mid-2023.
Thursday's launch opportunity has a 70% chance of mostly favorable liftoff weather conditions according to Space Force forecasters with only a slight chance of clouds in the area.
A backup launch opportunity on Friday will see conditions deteriorate with only a 40% chance of favorable liftoff conditions due to clouds and the possibility of light rain.
For the latest, visit floridatoday.com/launchschedule.
Rocket launch Thursday, May 19
Rocket: United Launch Alliance Atlas V with Boeing Starliner
Mission: Uncrewed Starliner Orbital Test Flight 2 to the ISS
Launch Window: 6:54 p.m. EDT, instantaneous — must launch on time
Launch Complex: LC-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station
Visit floridatoday.com/space for real-time updates and live video on launch day.
Jamie Groh is a space reporter for Florida Today. You can contact her at JGroh@floridatoday.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AlteredJamie.
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: NASA, Boeing set for Starliner launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force