Skip to main content

Boeing’s first Starliner orbital test flight delayed due to rocket issue

Boeing’s Starliner space capsule will have to wait a couple of extra days before it can make its first test flight into space.

The launch date for the uncrewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS) has been pushed to December 19 after an issue was found with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 rocket that will carry the capsule to the orbiting outpost.

“During prelaunch processing of the Atlas V, there was an issue with the rocket’s purge air supply duct,” ULA said in a notice posted on its website. “Additional time was needed for the ULA and Boeing teams to complete an analysis of the issue, replace the duct, and complete processing ahead of launch.”

All of the necessary work will be carried out on the launchpad in Cape Canaveral, Florida, where both the Atlas V and Starliner have been in place since November 21.

The short delay doesn’t appear to present a serious problem for the mission, which was originally slated for December 17.

The Starliner’s first orbital test flight as part of NASA’s commercial crew program aims to gather important data on the end-to-end performance of the Atlas V rocket, Starliner spacecraft, and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking, and landing operations, ULA said.

A successful mission will be a major step toward crewed launches to the ISS, possibly as early as next year.

There is competition, though. SpaceX, led by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, has also been testing its Crew Dragon capsule ahead of crewed missions to the ISS, the first of which could also take place in the next 12 months.

But both Boeing and SpaceX have, up to now, suffered various setbacks with their plans to get their respective capsules ready in time. In November 2019, for example, one of the Starliner’s parachutes failed to deploy following a test of its launch abort system, while in April, SpaceX saw its crew capsule explode during a ground-based test of its thruster system.

Whether Boeing or SpaceX, whoever wins the race to ferry astronauts to the space station in the next year or two will have the accolade of becoming the first to launch a crewed mission from U.S. soil since the retirement of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. NASA currently relies on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to get its astronauts to and from the space station.

We’ll be sure to update this story with any further developments regarding the December 19 launch.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
SpaceX resupply mission to ISS delayed until tomorrow due to weather
The Falcon 9 rocket form SpaceX with the Cargo Dragon spacecraft atop stands at the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

SpaceX had been due to launch a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in the early hours of this morning, Saturday, August 28, but the launch has been delayed due to poor weather. The launch is now rescheduled for tomorrow, Sunday, August 29.

SpaceX sends resupply missions to the ISS as part of its partnership with NASA. Under the Commercial Resupply Services program, NASA pays private companies to take over some of the duties of sending supplies and research equipment to the astronauts on the space station. Currently, along with SpaceX which uses its Cargo Dragon craft for the missions, the company Northrop Grumman uses Cygnus craft for resupply missions as well. In the future, these two providers will be joined by the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser robotic craft in resupplying the ISS.

Read more
Things going badly for Boeing Starliner, launch delayed indefinitely
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is in view in the United Launch Alliance Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 on Aug. 9, 2021.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is in view in the United Launch Alliance Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 on August 9. Boeing

Boeing and NASA have announced that they are calling off the planned test flight of the Starliner spacecraft, which is designed to ferry astronauts between Earth and the International Space Station. The Starliner had remained at the launch site in United Launch Alliance’s Vertical Integration Facility in hopes of a quick fix to a value issue, but now the Starliner will be moved back to a Boeing facility for further work.

Read more
Boeing photos show engineers fixing Starliner spacecraft
Engineers working on Boeing's Starliner spacecraft.

Considering the trouble Boeing had with its first CST-100 Starliner launch in December 2019, when the spacecraft failed to reach the International Space Station (ISS), the aerospace giant is taking no chances with its second test mission, OFT-2. That’s why it called off the launch just a few hours before launch last week when it spotted an issue with its propulsion valves that connect to the spacecraft’s thrusters to enable abort and in-orbit maneuvering.

The engineering team spent the weekend working to resolve the issue, with Boeing posting photos (below) showing the team in action.

Read more