Test of Boeing’s troubled Starliner capsule pushed to next year

Things aren’t looking good for Boeing’s Starliner capsule, which is intended to ferry astronauts between Earth and the International Space Station (ISS). After a second orbital test flight of the capsule was canceled earlier this summer, NASA has confirmed that the test has now been postponed until 2022.

Starliner’s troubles date back to December 2019, when its first orbital test flight, which was uncrewed, failed to reach the ISS as planned. Subsequent testing showed a number of issues, some of which were serious enough that they could have led to catastrophic failure of the craft. Engineers worked on these issues throughout 2020 and had hoped to perform a second orbital flight test on August 4, 2021, also uncrewed. But this test was called off when a value issue was discovered.

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to be flown on Orbital Flight Test-2.
The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to be flown on Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) is seen in the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 12, 2021. Part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, OFT-2 is a critical developmental milestone on the company’s path to fly crew missions for NASA. Boeing

Boeing said that it was working on fixing the issue and had hoped to go ahead with the test over the summer. But a fix for the problem has proved elusive.

Now, NASA confirms that the test won’t be happening this year. “Potential launch windows for OFT-2 continue to be assessed by NASA, Boeing, United Launch Alliance, and the Eastern Range,” NASA wrote in a blog post. “The team currently is working toward opportunities in the first half of 2022 pending hardware readiness, the rocket manifest, and space station availability.”

The delay to this test has lead to some shuffling of NASA astronauts for upcoming missions. NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada were originally assigned to be on two Starliner missions: Mann on the first crewed test flight for the Starliner, and Cassada on the first operational Starliner-1 mission. Now, both Mann and Cassada will instead fly to the ISS on the SpaceX Crew Dragon craft, as part of the Crew-5 mission which is scheduled for fall 2022.

“NASA decided it was important to make these reassignments to allow Boeing time to complete the development of Starliner while continuing plans for astronauts to gain spaceflight experience for the future needs of the agency’s missions,” the agency wrote.

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