Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft will complete its historic test flight to the International Space Station for NASA this week with a landing in New Mexico on Wednesday evening (May 25), if all goes according to plan.
Starliner arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) Friday, May 20, a day after launching Orbital Flight Test 2 (OFT-2), an uncrewed evacuation mission designed to show the capsule is ready to begin transporting astronauts to and from the station for NASA.
Boeing and NASA had said Starliner would remain docked at the orbiting lab for four to five days. This afternoon (May 23), we got firm departure information: the capsule is due to depart the ISS Wednesday at 2:36 p.m. EDT (6:36 p.m. GMT), with a landing at the Army’s White Sands missile range US in New Mexico at 6:49 p.m. EDT (22:49 GMT) the same day.
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The OFT-2 team is aiming for a landing at White Sands Space Harbor, a spaceport that once served as a runway for NASA’s space shuttle program, among other uses. An emergency landing opportunity is available at White Sands on Friday, May 27 if bad weather or other factors make a Wednesday return unsustainable, NASA officials said in an update this afternoon.
Starliner descended into White Sands Space Harbor once before, in December 2019, a landing that concluded Boeing’s original OFT mission. Starliner suffered a series of glitches on this flight and was unable to meet the ISS, forcing the capsule to fly OFT-2 as a catch-up flight.
OFT-2 is the last major hurdle Starliner must clear before astronauts can board. If all goes well with take-off and landing, and post-flight checks reveal no serious issues to fix, the capsule could be flying crews soon — possibly before the end of the year, Boeing said. and NASA officials.
Boeing isn’t the only company NASA has tapped to fly its astronauts to and from orbit. SpaceX holds a similar contract and is already operational with its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule, having launched four operational crewed missions to the ISS to date.
NASA and Boeing had identified five potential landing sites for Starliner on OFT-2, including two within missile range of White Sands. The others were Willcox Playa in southeastern Arizona, the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, and Edwards Air Force Base in California.
Mike Wall is the author of “The low(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom Or on Facebook.