by Douglas Messier
NASA and Boeing officials said on Thursday that Boeing’s Starliner crew spacecraft has been cleared for a Dec. 20 launch to the International Space Station (ISS).
The announcement came after Boeing and the space agency completed a flight readiness review for the eight-day orbital test of the vehicle. Starliner will not have a crew aboard for the flight.
A pre-dawn launch aboard an Atlas V booster is scheduled for 6:36 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Starliner would rendezvous and dock with the station the following day.
Due to the orbit of ISS, the launch window is an instantaneous one. If the launch can’t be conducted on Dec. 20, the first two backup dates are Dec. 21 and 23, officials said. There are additional launch dates before the end of the year.
Phil McAlister, NASA commercial spaceflight development director, said there are still some open items to close out in the coming days, but that the Dec. 20 launch looks good.
John Mulholland, vice president and program manager of Boeing Commercial Crew Program, thanked NASA for its partnership and said the flight readiness review had been thorough and transparent.
Aboard the spacecraft will have an instrumented test mannequin named Rosie, he added. It is named after Rosie the Riveter, a cultural icon who represented women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War 2.
Mulholland added Starliner will have a small supply of cargo aboard, including Christmas presents for the six-member space station crew.
Starliner is set to return to Earth on Dec. 28. It will touch down using parachutes and airbags in the Utah Desert , making it the first crew capsule to attempt a land recovery in American history. The Russian Soyuz transport has touched down on land since it first flew in 1967.
The mission is the first of two Starliner flight tests to ISS. A second flight with three astronauts aboard is set to take place during the first half of 2020. The flight is intended for a long-duration stay at the station.
Officials did not provide an estimate of when the flight would take place. The timing would depend upon the results of the first flight to ISS.
SpaceX is also developing its Crew Dragon spacecraft to fly astronauts to the space station under NASA Commercial Crew Program. Elon Musk’s company completed a flight test to ISS without a crew earlier this year.
SpaceX is scheduled to conduct a Crew Dragon in-flight abort test no earlier than Jan. 4. If successful, the test will pave the way to fly two astronauts to ISS during the first half of next year.