Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft will wrap up its landmark test flight to the International Space Station for NASA this week with a touchdown in New Mexico on Wednesday evening (May 25), if all goes according to plan.
Starliner arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday (May 20), a day after launching on Orbital Flight Test 2 (OFT-2), an uncrewed shakeout mission designed to show that the capsule is ready to start carrying astronauts to and from the station for NASA.
Boeing and NASA had said that Starliner will stay docked with the orbiting lab for four to five days. This afternoon (May 23), we got some firm departure information: The capsule is scheduled to depart the ISS Wednesday at 2:36 pm EDT (1836 GMT), with a landing occurring at the US Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico at 6:49 pm EDT (2249 GMT) that same day.
Live updates: Boeing Starliner Orbital Flight Test 2 mission to ISS
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The OFT-2 team is targeting a touchdown at White Sands Space Harbor, a spaceport that once served as a runway for NASA’s space shuttle program, among other uses. A backup landing opportunity is available at White Sands on Friday (May 27) if bad weather or other factors make a Wednesday return untenable, NASA officials said in an update this afternoon.
Starliner has come down at White Sands Space Harbor once before, in December 2019, a landing that wrapped up Boeing’s original OFT mission. Starliner suffered a series of glitches on that flight and was unable to meet up with the ISS, requiring the capsule to fly OFT-2 as a makeup flight.
OFT-2 is the last major hurdle that Starliner must clear before astronauts can climb aboard. If all goes well with the departure and landing, and post-flight checks don’t reveal any serious issues to iron out, the capsule could end up flying crews soon — perhaps before the end of the year, Boeing and NASA officials have said.
Boeing is not the only company NASA has tapped to fly its astronauts to and from orbit. SpaceX holds a similar contract and is already up and running 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, two of them within the White Sands Missile Range. 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 “out there” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.