The first crewed flight test of Boeing’s Starliner capsule is facing a further delay, with NASA officials saying on Wednesday it is now aiming for launch no earlier than July 21.
The space agency and Boeing blamed the delay on certification issues with the capsule’s parachute system and other checks on Starliner’s components and capabilities, as well as scheduling constraints with other missions scheduled to fly to and from the International Space Station (ISS).
Steve Stich, NASA’s program manager for the commercial crew program, told reporters that NASA and Boeing were to conduct an additional ground test of the parachute system, as well as a test of the abort system. Starliner. Stress testing of the flight and guidance, navigation and control systems and additional testing with the crew is to be completed by the end of this month.
“The Starliner spacecraft is in very good condition,” Stich told reporters at a press conference Wednesday, adding that it was “mostly ready for flight.”
Some of the additional tests resulted from Boeing engineers discovering an error in one of Starliner’s components.
“We fixed that. It was pretty simple to do with a minor modification to the vehicle,” Mark Nappi, Boeing’s Starliner program manager, said Wednesday. “However, we want to make sure that this same condition does not exist anywhere else. Part of these tests therefore consists in validating that this was an isolated case.
The CST-100 Starliner mission was scheduled to launch in April, but was pushed back to May last week to accommodate Axiom Space’s Ax-2 private spaceflight mission to the ISS.
This mission is a key part of the overall Starliner spacecraft test campaign, which NASA wants to use to regularly ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). If all goes according to plan, Boeing’s Starliner will join SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and Russia’s Soyuz as the only human-certified spacecraft capable of the task. Starliner’s first orbital test, an uncrewed mission, successfully docked at the ISS last May.
This upcoming crewed flight test will see Starliner carry two NASA astronauts, Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams, to the ISS for at least eight days. While the spacecraft is docked at the station, astronauts will perform additional vehicle checks. The mission is set to launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Base in Florida.
If the mission is successful, NASA plans to likely certify Starliner for ISS missions. It’s been a long road for capsule development, with the Starliner program facing a myriad of issues, including a botched test mission in 2019 and many delays.
“We know what we are doing is extremely important, launching humans into space and providing NASA with the second supplier,” Nappi said. “So we will take our time and make sure everyone is confident in the work that has been done.”