The Boeing Orbital Flight Test 2 (OFT-2) mission to the International Space Station is ready to launch at 18:54 EDT (2254 GMT) on Thursday (May 19) from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

This second test mission without a company crew Starliner the capsule serves as a critical step in NASA’s certification of the spacecraft for human spaceflight, following the completion of the original OFT mission in December 2019 and valve problems that delayed the launch of OFT-2 from the summer of 2021 until now.

OFT-2 will carry more than 500 pounds (225 kilograms) of cargo to the orbital laboratory, at least 440 pounds (200 kg) of which consists of food and supplies for the current crew of the station. Other payloads are provided by Boeing and include, among other souvenirs from the field, souvenirs such as flags and pins in memory of historic black colleges and universities of the United States (HBCU).

“Bridging the gaps in representation in our company and our industry is a priority for Boeing, and inspiring a variety of students to pursue careers in outer space is an important part of that effort,” said Boeing President and CEO David Calhoun. said in a statement last year.

His second ride on board the Starliner will also be a mannequin for flight tests, called with love Rosie the Rocketwoman. Rosie boarded the first OFT and provided engineers with data on the load of G-force on the body during the launch. For this flight, according to a Boeing statement, the same sensors used for Rosie’s OFT-1 will be used to directly measure the voltage on the vehicle’s four seats. (The main function of Rosie of OFT-2 will be to provide ballast, said members of the mission team.)

Launches of robotic cargo to the space station are common and occur every few months with the rotation of Russian Progress ships and two private American vehicles – the Cygnus spacecraft of Northrop Grumman and that of SpaceX Dragon capsule. These cargo ships carry large loads to the ISS, and the reusable dragon also unloads equipment. (Progress and the Swan burn in the Earth’s atmosphere when their time on the ISS is over.)

Speaking about the benefits of NASA’s sales crew program at a briefing on the eve of the first planned launch of OFT-2 last year, NASA’s deputy chief scientist for Program of the International Space StationJennifer Buhli pointed out the benefits of being able to transport more astronauts and scientific equipment at a faster speed, something Starliner can help with:

“Having more crew in orbit and more cargo back and forth from the ISS means we can do more science,” Buhli said. “We really do a wide variety of experiments in everything from human research to fluid physics, to demonstrations of technology, life sciences, and education.

To date, NASA has conducted more than 3,000 experiments in the orbital laboratory, which has hosted rotating crews of astronauts continuously since the late 2000s. The International Space Station.

However, it does not appear that Starliner will transport very significant scientific equipment to the orbital laboratory in the upcoming mission. According to NASAthe OFT-2 payload includes “preferred food and crew items for current crew members of the station expedition and supplies, such as clothing and sleeping bags, for CFT astronauts.” (CFT stands for “Crew Flight Test”, the first astronaut mission of Starliner, which Boeing and NASA plan to launch later this year if all goes well with OFT-2.)

For OFT-2, science is first and foremost the spacecraft itself (and to a lesser extent, Rosie the Rocket). Testing whether or not Starliner is ready for astronauts is crucial before getting them on board for a manned flight.

OFT-2 aims to demonstrate that Starliner can meet and connect with the space station, a task it failed to perform during the initial OFT after suffer from a number of software problems. To do this, the vehicle will use an instrument known as the Vision-based electro-optical tracking sensor, or VESTA.

Speaking about NASA’s Houston, We Have a Podcast, Amy Como, project engineer for the Boeing Starliner chief engineer’s office, singled out VESTA as the “main focus” of OFT-2’s goal of connecting to the station. She described the VESTA camera kit, which is designed to distinguish the visual characteristics of the space station in the same way that one would:

“The system uses visual signs of the space station … such as solar panels, stickers, modules, etc., and also uses information to track stars to interpret, [in] real-time, the exact location of the Starliner position relative to the International Space Station position. So, this information is actually fed into our flight computers, which ultimately propel the spacecraft to the appropriate docking port.

At a press conference on May 11 after the successful Starliner flight readiness review, NASA Deputy Chief Air Officer Emily Nelson noted that VESTA is “one of the most important and really cool sensors that have [the] spacecraft.”

According to Nelson, once flight operators confirm that VESTA “sees the space station correctly and identifies where it needs to go,” Starliner will begin a series of demonstration maneuvers. “The spacecraft will stop to demonstrate that if we tell it to stop, it will actually stop. He will automatically give in to some to demonstrate that we have this ability to back down. And then we’ll get on the last date and jump, “Nelson said.

The starliner will remain attached to the ISS for five to eight days before parachuting back to Earth somewhere in the western United States, according to NASA. When he returns, he will carry with him nearly 600 pounds (270 kg) of cargo, including three of the dozen NORS (“Nitrogen and Oxygen Recharging System”) at the station.

NORS tanks supply atmospheric gases to the space station. These tanks often return on cargo missions, and recently one accompanied the pioneer private’s crew. Mission Ax-1 back to Earth in their SpaceX Dragon capsule last month. However, OFT-2 will be the first mission to return three NORS tanks at once, Joel Montalbano, NASA’s ISS program manager, told a May 11 briefing.

During a press conference to review OFT-2 on May 3, Montalbano summed up Starliner’s cargo, saying: “Most of the cargo being loaded will be food and so around just over 450,460 pounds [204 to 209 kg] … And then, on our way back, we will bring home some of the NORS tanks, the nitrogen and oxygen refueling tanks we have on board. They have been used, so we will return them to the ground, repair them and then release them again. And these are the big highlights. In addition, we are launching some vehicle hardware, as well as some EVA space delivery hardware. ”

Most of Boeing’s cargo will also return to Earth with Starliner at the end of OFT-2. In addition to flags and pins representing the heritage of the HBCU, other OFT-2 space souvenirs include Rosie The Riveter coins commemorating women in the aerospace industry during World War II, seeds from five different tree species that reflect “moon tree”Efforts made for the first time by Apollo astronaut Stu Rose in 1971, as well as the company’s original ID card issued to Boeing founder Bill Boeing, which bears his signature.

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