Boeing specialists working inside a former space shuttle hangar in Florida started fueling the company’s first spaceflight-ready Starliner capsule this week ahead of the ship’s rollout to its launch pad later this month. The fueling milestone is a major step in the Starliner launch campaign, and comes after engineers concluded that human error led to a parachute deployment malfunction during a crew capsule abort test Monday.
A Boeing Starliner crew capsule fired off a stand early Monday at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico on a mile-high test flight to validate the spacecraft’s emergency escape thrusters. Only two of the ship’s three main parachutes deployed on descent, but Boeing officials do not expect any impacts on the planned launch of an unpiloted Starliner demonstration mission to the International Space Station in December.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said this week the space agency is not unduly delaying the debut of new SpaceX and Boeing commercial crew capsules as engineers gear up for a challenging rapid-fire sequence of test flights in the next few months, all against the backdrop of in-depth safety reviews before clearing the privately-owned ships to carry astronauts.
With lingering uncertainly about when new commercial crew spaceships will be ready to launch humans, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Thursday the space agency will replace a Japanese astronaut with a U.S. space flier on the next Russian Soyuz launch to the International Space Station. He added that it remains in NASA’s interests to pay Russia for one or more additional Soyuz seats next year to ensure the station remains continuously staffed with at least one American.
Boeing officials said Wednesday that the company is targeting Dec. 17 for the launch of the first unpiloted orbital test flight of the new Starliner crew capsule from Cape Canaveral on a week-long demonstration mission to the International Space Station, a precursor to a mission with astronauts next year.