A second unpiloted test flight of Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule — ordered after an initial demonstration mission fell short of reaching the International Space Station — is now scheduled for launch from Cape Canaveral in August or September, leaving little margin to conduct the spaceship’s first flight with astronauts before the end of the year.
NASA’s acting administrator said Tuesday he does not expect Russian cosmonauts to start launching to the International Space Station on U.S. commercial crew vehicles until next year. A proposed agreement with Russia to ensure the space station is always staffed with an international crew is awaiting U.S. government approval.
An unpiloted test flight of Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule to the International Space Station will be delayed from its previous target launch date of April 2 until at least May, after the arrivals of Russian Soyuz and SpaceX Crew Dragon ships bringing fresh crew members to the orbiting complex, NASA officials said Monday.
Boeing said Monday it has re-qualified software for the company’s Starliner crew capsule after programming errors cut short the spacecraft’s first orbital test flight in 2019, and technicians at the Kennedy Space Center have connected the crew and service modules for the next unpiloted Starliner test flight to the International Space Station in March.
Christopher Ferguson, commander of the final space shuttle flight and now a Boeing executive, has stepped down as commander of the first piloted test flight of the company’s troubled CST-100 Starliner commercial spacecraft, he and Boeing announced Wednesday. He has been replaced by NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore.
Boeing said Tuesday it is “making excellent progress” toward launching a second unpiloted test flight of its Starliner crew capsule to the International Space Station by the end of this year or in early January, setting the stage for the first Starliner demonstration mission with astronauts in mid-2021.
Members of NASA’s independent panel of aerospace safety advisors raised concerns last week about quality control problems that “seemingly have plagued” Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule program, while urging NASA to closely monitor SpaceX’s plans to reuse Crew Dragon spaceships on astronaut flights to the International Space Station.
NASA has completed an exhaustive review of software problems and procedural oversights that prevented an unpiloted Boeing Starliner capsule from docking with the space station last year. The agency is implementing 80 recommendations to clear the way for a second test flight later this year and, if all goes well, Boeing’s first piloted flight next spring, officials said Tuesday.