Two month delay to launch of first crewed mission aboard Boeing’s Starliner, which seeks to compete with Elon Musk’s SpaceX
A crewed spaceflight of Boeing’s Starliner has been delayed by two months as the SpaceX challenger seeks to overcome technical issues uncovered during last uncrewed test flight.
NASA confirmed in a blog post that Boeing’s first Starliner capsule mission carrying humans has slipped from February to April 2023.
It comes after Boeing successfully launched its much delayed unmanned Starliner astronaut capsule into space in late May this year.
Instead of NASA astronauts, the CST-100 Starliner carried supplies for the International Space Station (ISS).
That was a very big deal for Boeing, and meant there is now is a competitor to SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, which has already carried astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) on a number of occasions.
However, a Starliner mission carrying a crew of NASA astronauts to the International Space Station is the last step before the Boeing spacecraft can be certified for routine flights.
“The date adjustment deconflicts visiting spacecraft traffic at the space station as NASA and Boeing work together to achieve flight readiness,” the American space agency stated.
“The team continues to make progress toward Starliner’s crewed flight following the successful uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) to the space station in May,” said NASA. “Starliner and United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket hardware remain on track for readiness in early 2023.”
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner pod sits on top a rocket, and the May spaceflight redid a 2019 flight that was cut short by software glitches and technical failures. In 2019 software failures scuppered CST-100 Starliner capsule debut attempt to dock at the space station.
And then in August 2021 Boeing attempted a launch, but this was cancelled due to a problem with jammed valves in the spacecraft’s propulsion system.
In October 2021 Boeing confirmed the fix for the jammed valves would take longer than expected, and rolled back the uncrewed test flight until mid-2022.
Finally in May this year it completed an uncrewed test flight that docked with the ISS.
However, despite Starliner successfully demonstrating a space station docking in May, Boeing encountered several technical issues with the spacecraft during the mission that it is working to fix to NASA’s satisfaction.
“NASA and Boeing currently are working on a variety of verification efforts across several critical systems that will be used for Starliner’s crew flight certification,” blogged the space agency.
The CST-100 Starliner capsule is designed to carry seven people, and is meant to be launched on top of an Atlas V rocket.
It is designed essentially to be a space taxi, and once it is declared operational, the CST-100 Starliner capsule will mostly carrier NASA astronauts to and from the space station.
It will land back on Earth via parachutes.
This is an important development, as using Russian launch facilities is now out of the question with its illegal invasion of Ukraine.
Boeing has been developing Starliner since 2014 when NASA selected the company, along with SpaceX, under a roughly $4.2 billion fixed-price NASA contract, to develop space capsules that could carry astronauts to and from the space station.
NASA of course has a similar contract with SpaceX, whose rival Crew Dragon capsule has flown six crewed flights for the agency since 2020.