Starliner spacecraft won’t fly first crew until next year

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Boeing's Starliner spacecraft at the space station during an uncrewed test flight.
Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft at the space station during an uncrewed test flight in May 2022. NASA/Boeing

Boeing’s Starliner CST-100 spacecraft won’t be going on its first crewed test flight to the International Space Station (ISS) until March 2024 at the earliest.

The news was announced at a press conference on Monday offering an update on the Starliner program, which has suffered numerous issues and delays since its failed maiden flight in December 2019.

“Based on the current plans, we’re anticipating that we’re going to be ready with the spacecraft in early March,” Boeing vice president and Starliner manager Mark Nappi told reporters at the media gathering.

Nappi added that this didn’t mean a date for the mission had been set, explaining: “We’re now working with NASA — Commercial Crew program and [ISS] — and ULA [United Launch Alliance] on potential launch dates based on our readiness … We’ll work throughout the next several weeks and see where we can get fit in and then then we’ll set a launch date.”

The first crewed flight test to and from the ISS was supposed to have taken place last month, but the discovery of two safety issues earlier in the year prompted Boeing and NASA to call off the mission until they’ve been addressed.

One of the issues involved the parachutes that slow the capsule during its descent on its return journey. Engineers discovered that the parachutes’ load limit had been recorded incorrectly, suggesting they were less robust than originally thought.

The other issue involved the tape that wraps around wire harnesses in the Starliner. It was found to be flammable and therefore has to be replaced. Boeing said on Monday that work to replace the tape should be done by the end of September, and a parachute drop test is likely to take place in November.

Following its failed maiden orbital flight in 2019, Boeing had to go back to the drawing board to fix a range of problems with the spacecraft. It was then able to achieve a successful uncrewed flight to and from the ISS in May last year.

But once again, the Starliner program faces delays, meaning NASA will have to continue to wait until it has a second spacecraft for ISS flights alongside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle, which has been transporting astronauts to and from the orbital outpost since 2020.

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