The first crewed flight of Boeing ‘s Starliner capsule is delay. The launch has been pushed back several months, with liftoff now scheduled for July 21. Last month, Boeing and NASA said that the debut of astronauts on the Starliner, a mission to the International Space Station (ISS) called the Crew Flight Test (CFT), was on track for launch in April.
Intense traffic to the ISS
The timeline was postponed last week when NASA officials said that CFT will launch after Ax-2, a private flight operated by Houston-based Axiom Space, which is scheduled for early May. “We deliberated and decided that the earliest attempt for CFT is no earlier than July 21” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, during a press conference today.
The reasons for Boeing ‘s delay with the Starliner capsule are actually multiple. Firstly, there will be intense traffic to the ISS this spring. After Ax-2, which will launch in May, SpaceX‘s next robotic cargo mission is scheduled for June.
The CFT launch site, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, will also be busy in the coming months. The United Launch Alliance (ULA) plans to launch a mission for the US Space Force from Cape Canaveral with an Atlas V rocket this spring. Immediately after, the site will be busy with the first-ever launch of the new Vulcan Centaur vehicle from the company, expected in May.
Additional tests for the Starliner capsule
NASA also wants a little more time to analyze data on various Starliner components, such as its parachute system, before putting astronauts on the vehicle. And the agency and Boeing plan to conduct another ground test to test the slide that extracts it and the Starliner’s forward heat shield. The test is scheduled for early May.
“At this point, there really are no issues or concerns with the parachute system. The parachutes are installed on the vehicle and in good condition. It’s just a matter of looking at all of that data and making sure that we’re really ready to fly safely” Stich said. The CFT mission will send NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams to the ISS for a stay of about eight days. If all goes well with the test flight, NASA will likely certify Starliner for operational astronaut missions to the orbiting station.
An American private spacecraft is already performing these crewed taxi missions. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, earlier this month, launched its sixth crewed flight to the ISS on behalf of NASA. The Crew Flight Test will be Starliner’s second trip to the ISS. The capsule already spent about a week docked to the ISS in May 2022, on an uncrewed mission called Orbital Flight Test 2.