Boeing is getting ready to launch its new passenger spacecraft for a very special mission: Its first trip to the International Space Station (ISS). The Boeing CST-100 Starliner is the company's contribution to NASA's commercial crew program, which will see the U.S. regain the ability to launch astronauts to space from U.S. soil for the first time since the Space Shuttle program ended.
Today's launch is scheduled for 6:35 AM EST (3:35 AM PST) and will take off from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The Starliner capsule is loaded atop a ULA Atlas V rocket, which will deliver it to space before detaching, at which point the Starliner will propel itself the rest of the way to the required orbit for its docking with the ISS.
This is a key launch on the way to a crewed flight, but there isn't anyone on board this time. Instead, this is what's called the "orbital flight test" (OFT) for the Boeing-made crew capsule, which will test all systems in an actual flight to the station, with everything treated as though it were a crewed mission, minus the astronauts.
If all goes to plan, a successful OFT will be a key milestone toward the target of flying a crewed test flight sometime during the first half of next year.