Boeing Starliner Set For 1 June Crewed Launch

Boeing's Starliner approaches the International Space Station on an unmanned mission on 20 May, 2022. Image credit: Boeing

Crewed flight of Boeing’s Starliner planned to be final test to certify long-delayed vehicle for NASA flights to International Space Station

Boeing and NASA have scheduled the new date of Saturday, 1 June for the first manned test flight of Boeing’s Starliner into space after resolving two technical issues.

The organisations scrubbed the mission’s earlier planned launch on 6 May after finding an issue with an oxygen relief valve in the Atlas V rocket intended to launch Starliner.

The valve, which had been rapidly opening and closing, was replaced during the week after the cancelled launch, but in the meantime engineers discovered a separate issue involving a helium leak in the Starliner vehicle itself.

Examining the helium leak issue and how to resolve it caused NASA and Boeing to delay the mission’s resumption several times, before they conclude that the leak is “stable” and does not pose a risk to astronauts.

Astronauts Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams at the Starliner spacecraft launch pad in May 2024. Image credit: NASA
Astronauts Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams at the Starliner spacecraft launch pad in May 2024. Image credit: NASA

Helium leak

“This is really not a safety of flight issue for ourselves, and we believe that we have a well-understood condition that we can manage,” said Boeing Starliner chief Mark Nappi at a press conference.

Starliner has backup launch dates on 2 June, 5 June and 6 June.

The approximately one-week Starliner Crew Test Flight (CTF) mission is intended as the vehicle’s final test before certification by NASA that would allow it to be used for routine manned flights to the International Space Station under its Commercial Crew programme.

Boeing has spent $1.5 billion (£1.2bn) of its own funds in developing Starliner amidst repeated setbacks, on top of $5bn in NASA development funding.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule has been flying passengers for NASA regularly since 2020 under the programme.

Launch plan

Boeing plans to roll the rocket and capsule to the launch pad on 30 May for the 1 June launch attempt.

Any delay after 6 June could involve weeks or months of further delays as perishable items aboard the vessel would need to be replaced.

The launch could also come into conflict with other launch priorities of United Launch Alliance, the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture that built the Atlas rocket, such as Amazon’s first launch of its Kuiper satellites and ULA’s second flight of its new Vulcan rocket intended for US military missions.