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ULA begins stacking Atlas-5 rocket for launching the first manned mission of Starliner

ULA has begun to assemble the Atlas-5 rocket that will hopefully launch Boeing’s Starliner capsule on its first manned mission to ISS, presently targeting a late April lift-off.

The rocket’s main stage was transferred from the nearby Advanced Spaceflight Operations Center to the integration facility Wednesday, Feb. 21, where it will await integration with the rocket’s upper Centaur stage and Starliner. The spacecraft will carry NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore to the orbiting laboratory for a short stay of about one to two weeks before returning to a landing site in the southwest United States.

The late April date appears to be a slight delay from previous announcements.

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On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • Ray Van Dune

    I assume all remaining Atlas-5 launches will use up the Russian RD-180 engines that remain available to ULA. Is there an announced plan to transition Starliner launches to another booster / engine combo? I would assume Vulcan / BE-4 would be used, but I can’t find that documented anywhere.

    Ps. Just a nit: “ULA has begun to assembly…” should probably be “ULA has begun to assemble…”

  • Ray Van Dune: Typo fixed. Thank you.

    As for future Starliner launches, I am pretty sure they will fly on Vulcan.

  • geoffc

    Actually, with the requirement for 6 more Starliner missions, my understanding is they reserved an Atlas V booster for each mission. (Out of the remaining 17 or so left). The move to Vulcan will likely come via NASA funding to manrate it.

    Interesting that they are stacking a booster in Feb for a launch in April. Unlike the SpaceX CRS mission this weekend, which was probably stacked earlier this week.

  • John

    I do not believe that Starliner is ready for manned flight and am surprised that it is allowed. Good luck, you’re going to need it.

  • Edward

    geoffc wrote: “Interesting that they are stacking a booster in Feb for a launch in April. Unlike the SpaceX CRS mission this weekend, which was probably stacked earlier this week.

    Part of it is a difference in philosophies. SpaceX operates with a sense of urgency and sees no reason to dawdle. Since it is worth doing, do it right away. In fact, the company needs to get the rocket stack out of the way so that they can start preparing for the next launch, which may be less than a week away. It is how to keep up a high launch cadence. Since the Atlas rocket does not have a high launch cadence, there is no hurry getting the stack out of the way of the next launch. There is less sense of urgency in the ULA corporate culture. Northrup Grumman’s culture may also lack the same sense of urgency.

    Another part is that this is the first manned flight, and greater care must be taken to assure that the procedures are not only followed but are truly correct. A little extra time is placed in the schedule to account for problems that occur because this is the first time. This is the first manned flight for this entire team. In the future, they may be able to take two or three weeks off this schedule, once they are familiar and comfortable with the operation.

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