Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft will come back to Earth on Wednesday evening (May 25), and you can watch its homecoming live.
Starliner is scheduled to undock from the International Space Station (ISS) at 2:36 p.m. EDT (1836 GMT) on Wednesday and make a parachute-aided touchdown at the White Sands Missile Range, a U.S. Army facility in New Mexico, about four hours later, at 6:49 p.m. EDT (2249 GMT).
You can watch all of this action live here at Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV, or directly via the space agency (opens in new tab). Undocking coverage will begin at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT), and a webcast of deorbit and landing operations will start at 5:45 p.m. EDT (2145 GMT).
Wednesday’s landing will wrap up Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2), a critical uncrewed mission to the ISS designed to show that Starliner is ready to carry astronauts to and from orbit. Boeing holds a NASA contract to provide this taxi service, as does SpaceX, which has already launched four operational crewed missions to the ISS with its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule.
OFT-2 kicked off last Thursday (May 19), when Starliner soared into space atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The capsule arrived at the ISS about 24 hours later, delivering more than 500 pounds (225 kilograms) of food and other supplies to the astronauts aboard the orbiting lab.
Starliner will bring down to Earth about 600 pounds (270 kg) of cargo, including three of the station’s dozen or so nitrogen oxygen recharge system (NORS) tanks, which provide atmospheric gases to the orbiting lab.
If everything goes well with Starliner’s departure and touchdown, the capsule could end up carrying astronauts soon. Boeing and NASA representatives have said, for example, that they’re eyeing a potential crewed flight test to the ISS around the end of 2022.
But NASA won’t certify Starliner for crewed flight until it has analyzed all of the data from OFT-2. And the mission hasn’t gone perfectly smoothly; two of the capsule’s thrusters failed during its crucial orbit-insertion burn about 30 minutes after liftoff, for example. (A backup engine kicked on and picked up the slack.)
The original OFT had much bigger issues. During that mission, which launched in December 2019, Starliner suffered a series of software glitches and got stranded in an orbit too low for an ISS rendezvous. And OFT-2 was supposed to launch last summer, but mission team members discovered a problem with the valves in Starliner’s propulsion system that took about eight months to address.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There (opens in new tab)” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).