ORLANDO, FLORIDA – Excitement builds around Central Florida as Boeing attempts a historic mission. The CST-100 Starliner capsule sits ready and cleared to fly on Friday, Dec. 20 at 6:36a.m. This is the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test of the Dreamliner, which is designed to ferry humans to and from the ISS. If successful, the mission would mark the first orbital flight of the Dreamliner, and the first fully-autonomous docking with the ISS.
The flight will be aboard a ULA Atlas V rocket. The Atlas rocket has a long history of success in flight. (Its predecessor, Mercury-Atlas, was the first rocket to loft an American astronaut into orbit in 1962.) This variation of the Atlas features the first use of the dual-engine Centaur second stage. This is required because of the unique launch profile for this mission. Starliner will launch with a flatter trajectory to allow for more safe abort locations along the flight path in future crewed missions.
Starliner being autonomous for all phases of flight means astronauts will not have to use Canadarm2 to grapple the spaceship and manually dock, which is what is currently done to dock SpaceX’s Dragon capsules.
The real excitement with Dreamliner is the promise of a return of human spaceflight from the United States. Since the Shuttle program was cancelled in 2011, all human spaceflights to the ISS have been launched from Star City, Kazakhstan by Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency. With a successful test, the return of American spaceflight comes closer to fruition.
For those who plan on attending the launch:
Attendance may be very high for this historic launch. NASA is currently selling a Feel the Heat package, which is advertised as being the closest viewing area for the launch pad, for $195 plus tax per person. If you want to watch the launch for free, popular areas are:
- Max A. Brewer Bridge
- Jetty Park
- Further Away Beaches such as Cocoa or Satellite
Keep in mind if attendance is high, it could take several hours to leave the area. Note: Don’t plan on attending the launch and then going to work!