Boeing's Starliner is about to take off – if the test is successful, it should represent a very important milestone for business space travel

If all goes well late May 6, 2024, NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams will blast into space on Boeing's Starliner spacecraft. This final critical test for Starliner will launch from Kennedy Space Center and can test the brand new spacecraft and take the pair to the International Space Station for about every week.

a part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, this long-delayed mission will probably be the vehicle's first crewed launch. If successful, it should give NASA – and, in the longer term, space tourists – more opportunities to get into low Earth orbit.

Two people in blue overalls hug in front of an airplane.
Suni Williams (right) and Butch Wilmore, the 2 astronauts who will accompany the Starliner test.
AP Photo/Terry Renna

From my perspective as Space policy expertThe launch of Starliner represents one other significant milestone in the event of the business space industry. But the eventful history of the mission also shows how difficult the trail to space may be, even for an experienced company like Boeing.

Origins and development

After the NASA space shuttle was retired in 2011 NASA invited Commercial space corporations assist the agency in transporting cargo and crew to the International Space Station.

In 2014, NASA chosen Boeing and SpaceX to construct their respective crew vehicles: Starliner and Dragon.

Boeing's vehicle, Starliner, was built to hold as much as seven crew members to and from low Earth orbit. For NASA missions to the International Space Station, it might probably carry as much as 4 people at a time and is designed to stay docked to the station for as much as seven months. At 15 feet, the capsule the crew will sit in is barely larger than an Apollo command module or a SpaceX Dragon.

Boeing designed Starliner to be partially reusable to cut back the associated fee of attending to space. Although the Atlas V While the rocket that may carry it into space and the service module that supports the spacecraft are each expendable, the Starliner's crew capsule may be reused as much as 10 times, with a processing time of six months. Boeing has built two airworthy Starliners up to now.

A conical vehicle sitting on a flat vehicle.
The Starliner capsule in transit.
AP Photo/John Raoux

The development of Starliner was related to setbacks. Although Boeing received $4.2 billion from NASA in comparison with $2.6 billion from SpaceX, Boeing spent more invested greater than $1.5 billion moreover in the event of the spacecraft.

Starliner's first unmanned test flight in 2019 was a Series of software and hardware failures prevented it from reaching its planned orbit and docking with the International Space Station. After testing a few of his systems, it landed successfully on the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

In 2022, Starliner conducted one after identifying and implementing greater than 80 fixes second unmanned test flight. This time the vehicle managed to successfully dock with the International Space Station and land in New Mexico six days later.

There are some astronauts inside a Starliner. The crew members first trained for the launch in a simulator.

Despite it, Boeing was delayed the primary manned launch for Starliner from 2023 to 2024 resulting from additional problems. One of those was the Starliner's parachutes, which help slow the vehicle on its strategy to Earth. Tests revealed that some connections were present in these parachute lines weaker than expected, which could have led to breakage. A second problem was the usage of flammable tape, which could pose a hearth hazard.

An essential query arising from these delays is why Starliner's development was so difficult. For one, NASA officials admitted that it didn’t provide as much oversight for Starliner because it did for SpaceX's Dragon since the agency was conversant in Boeing.

And Boeing has experienced several problems currently, most notably with the protection of its aircraft. astronaut Butch Wilmore denied that Starliner's problems reflect these problems.

But several other Boeing space activities In addition, Starliner also experienced mechanical failures and budget pressures, including with the Space Launch System. This system is meant to be the fundamental rocket NASA's Artemis programwhich plans to return humans to the moon for the primary time because the Apollo era.

Importance for NASA and business space travel

Given these difficulties, Starliner's success will probably be essential to Boeing's future space endeavors. Even if SpaceX's Dragon can successfully transport NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, the agency needs a backup. And that is where Starliner comes into play.

Following the Challenger explosion in 1986 and that Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003NASA decommissioned the Space Shuttle in 2011. The agency was left with few options for getting astronauts out and in of space. With a second provider of economic crew vehicles, NASA doesn’t need to depend on one company or one vehicle for space launches as before.

Perhaps more importantly, if Starliner is successful, it could compete with SpaceX. However, there’s currently no overwhelming demand for space tourism, and Boeing does no plans to market Starliner for tourism soon, Competition is vital in every market to cut back costs and increase innovation.

There will probably be more such competition. Sierra Space's Dream Chaser is scheduled to launch later this yr Transport cargo for NASA to the International Space Station. A manned version of the spaceplane can be being developed for the next round of NASA's business crew program. Blue Origin is Collaboration with NASA on this latest round of economic crew contracts and the event of a lunar lander for the Artemis program.

A conical white spaceship with two rectangular solar panels in space, with Earth in the background.
SpaceX's Dragon capsule.

Although SpaceX makes business spaceflight look relatively easy, Boeing's rocky experience with Starliner shows how difficult spaceflight continues to be, even for an experienced company.

Not only is Starliner essential to NASA and Boeing, but it surely also shows that a couple of company can achieve the business space industry. A successful launch would also give NASA greater confidence within the industry's ability to support operations in Earth orbit because the agency focuses on future missions to the moon and beyond.

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