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Boeing Hopes Third Time Is the Charm for Starliner Space Capsule

Starliner capsule launched from Cape Canaveral in bid to become second U.S. vehicle capable of reaching space station.
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This launch has been about two and a half years in the making for Boeing  (BA) -

The aerospace company launched the first test flight of Starliner, the company's reusable spacecraft capsule for passengers, in December 2019. 

The test flight, named OFT-1, had a successful launch, but failed to complete its mission of reaching the International Space Station due to software issues that kept the capsule from reaching the proper orbit.

The capsule floated in orbit around Earth for three days before landing.

Last year, NASA said that Boeing had "identified a most probable cause related to oxidizer and moisture interactions."

Since then, Boeing has changed the service module and now the company appears ready to launch as it looks to catch up to a popular rival that is well ahead of the company currently. 

Boeing Plays Catch Up With SpaceX

Boeing's OFT-2 Starliner spacecraft lifted off aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Thursday May 19 at 6:54 pm EDT from Cape Canaveral Space Station in Florida. 

Starliner is scheduled to dock with the ISS about 24 hours after launch carrying more than 800 pounds of cargo, including about 500 pounds of NASA cargo and crew supplies. 

NASA hired Boeing to develop spacecraft that could handle human flights to the space station. At the same time, the company also hired rival SpaceX to do the same thing. 

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However, SpaceX has been the only company capable of producing a vehicle to complete the trip to the space station so far. 

Earlier this year, NASA awarded SpaceX three additional flights and in April, the company, which is led by Tesla  (TSLA) -  CEO Elon Musk,  launched another crew to the station using a Crew Dragon vehicle on top of a Falcon 9 rocket. The mission was the fifth NASA crew mission since 2020. 

But Boeing isn't giving up the race. While Boeing still is having issues with with its flagship commercial airplane building business, the company is still committed to competing in space also. 

"We’re quite confident that we can be a player and want to be a player,” Boeing CEO David Calhoun recently told investors.

NASA Uses Competition to Its Advantage

NASA has picked six satellite companies -- including Musk's SpaceX and Project Kuiper, Amazon's  (AMZN) -  internet space initiative -- to develop space communication services in Earth orbit.

The companies will receive a total of $278.5 million for their efforts.

NASA said it expects each company to match or exceed contributions during the five-year development period, totaling more than $1.5 billion of cost-share investment.

The strategy for NASA gives the company more bandwidth to complete its other missions. 

"This approach would allow NASA to focus more time and resources on its deep space exploration and science missions," the agency said recently.

By using funded Space Act Agreements, we’re able to stimulate industry to demonstrate end-to-end capability leading to operational service,” Eli Naffah, the communications-services-project manager at NASA’s Glenn Research Center. 

Naffah said "the flight demonstrations are risk-reduction activities that will develop multiple capabilities and will provide operational concepts, performance validation, and acquisition models needed to plan the future acquisition of commercial services for each class of NASA missions.”