A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket lifted off with the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on Starliner’s first-ever Orbital Flight Test from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
The launch was conducted from CCAFS Space Launch Complex-41 at 6:36 a.m. EST (1136 UTC) on Friday, Dec. 20.
During the Orbital Flight Test (OFT), the Atlas V rocket delivered the uncrewed CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to a 98 nautical mile (nmi) sub-orbital trajectory. Following Starliner’s separation from Atlas V, its engines will now burn taking it the rest of the way to orbit and on to the International Space Station (ISS).
ULA flew the Atlas V rocket with a kerosene-fueled common core booster, two solid rocket boosters and the hydrogen-fueled dual-engine Centaur upper stage. Combined, Starliner and the Atlas V stood 172 feet (52 meters) tall. The rocket generated about 1.6 million pounds of thrust at launch.
The Starliner Orbital Flight Test is the 81st launch of the Atlas V rocket and marked ULA’s 136th mission.
The first Starliner flight to the ISS, which Boeing built and sustains for NASA, carries about 600 pounds of crew supplies and equipment to the space station and return some critical research samples to Earth with a parachute-assisted landing at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico at 5:47 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 28.
The flight test will provide valuable data on the end-to-end performance of the Atlas V rocket, Starliner spacecraft, and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking and landing operations. The data will be used as part of NASA’s process of certifying Boeing’s crew transportation system for carrying astronauts to and from the space station.
The second flight test, using a different spacecraft, will take Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, along with NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann, to the station for a longer mission.
The reusable Starliner capsule is being developed in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP), which will return America’s ability to launch people to low Earth orbit from American soil for the first time since Ferguson commanded the final space shuttle mission in 2011.
The spacecraft completed a critical safety milestone in early November in an end-to-end test of its abort system. During the two-minute Pad Abort Test designed to simulate a launch pad emergency, an uncrewed Starliner spacecraft lifted off under its own power from the Launch Complex 32 at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.