We will have to wait until 2024 to see Boeing‘s Starliner spacecraft’s first flight carrying astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The crewed launch has been delayed by an additional month, not before the middle of next year, NASA officials stated (ref.). No reason was provided for the change. The projected date for the first operational flight of the Boeing spacecraft has also been pushed back to early 2025.
NASA and Boeing had previously targeted early March 2024 for the Crew Flight Test (CFT) debut mission. However, this was only a vehicle readiness target date, not an official launch goal. CFT will send astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams to the International Space Station. The mission has faced a series of delays due to various technical issues, repeatedly postponing its liftoff.
The CFT flight was scheduled for last July. However, analysis teams discovered issues with Starliner’s wiring and its parachute system. NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX in September 2014 to provide flights for astronauts to and from the ISS. SpaceX’s seventh operational flight to the ISS was launched on August 25. In contrast, Starliner has only been launched twice, neither with people on board.
Starliner’s first flight encountered several issues during the Orbital Flight Test (OFT) mission. After launching in December 2019, it did not reach the ISS as planned. The subsequent mission, OFT-2 in May 2022, successfully reached the ISS and returned to Earth.
Boeing vs SpaceX
Thursday’s NASA press release also confirmed the projected launch date for SpaceX’s Crew-8 mission in mid-February 2024. The four crew members of Crew-8 have already been named. They are NASA astronauts Matthew Dominick (commander), Michael Barratt (pilot), and Jeanette Epps (mission specialist), and cosmonaut and mission specialist Alexander Grebenkin.
SpaceX’s Crew-9 mission will then be launched in August 2024, just before the return of Crew-8 to Earth. A tenth crew rotation mission is planned for early 2025, NASA officials said. It could be either SpaceX’s Crew-10 mission or Starliner-1, Boeing’s first operational crewed flight to the ISS.
The target date has been postponed to allow time for reviewing the CFT results. NASA officials also added other reasons such as “incorporating early learnings, approval of final certification products, and completion of readiness and certification reviews prior to the mission Starliner-1”.