Boeing on Friday morning launched its Starliner CST-100 crew capsule, the spacecraft that will eventually carry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) from U.S. launch sites. The Starliner wasn’t carrying any humans – but it did have a Snoopy doll and a robot named ‘Rosie’ on board.
The plush Snoopy is essentially a fun mascot, though it will provide a very easy to see indication of when the spacecraft has achieved zero gravity, since it’s in free flight on the ship. Rosie, however, will provide information about the forces exerted during the vehicle’s launch and flight, and help provide an even better idea of what that trip will be like for real astronauts once they’re strapped in and flying.
Today’s mission was an “orbital flight test” (OFT) of Boeing’s crew capsule, the first such test with an ISS rendez-vous, which mirrors what would happen when astronauts are actually on board through every step of the process. Today’s mission prep included closing out and pressuring the capsule spacecraft as if it carried astronauts, too.
Starliner launched atop an Atlas V launch vehicle provided by Boeing partner United Launch Alliance (ULA), which includes a Centaur upper-stage rocket and a first-stage booster powered by a Russian-made RD-180 engine. The rocket carried the Starliner to space, with the first and then the second stage separating form the capsule before the capsule itself fired up its engines to bring it the rest of the way to its target orbit.
Once there, it’ll get in position for docking with the ISS, which is set to take place tomorrow morning EST. Once the capsule reaches the ISS, it’ll be captured by the station’s robotic Canadarm2, controlled by Astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch. The capsule may not be carrying people on this run, but it is loaded with around 600 lbs of cargo, including supplies and experiment materials, which the astronauts on the ISS will unload before the Starliner undocks and makes its return trip to Earth in about a week.
Update (7:20 AM EST): While the launch and stage separation went as planned, the Starliner capsule itself missed a planned engine burn to put it in its target orbit en route to the ISS. The teams at Boeing and NASA now say it’s in a stable orbit and they’re working on next steps for a solution. We’ll provide more info when it’s available.