Flight test for troubled Starliner capsule pushed back to April

NASA and Boeing teams are adjusting the launch date of Orbital Flight Test-2 to allow more time for CST-100 Starliner spacecraft and hardware processing.
NASA and Boeing teams are adjusting the launch date of Orbital Flight Test-2 to allow more time for CST-100 Starliner spacecraft and hardware processing. Boeing/John Proferes

Boeing had been planning to test its upcoming crew capsule, the Starliner, next month. Now the date for the capsule’s second orbital test flight has been pushed back until April. The capsule will eventually carry astronauts between Earth and the International Space Station (ISS), but the upcoming test flight will be uncrewed.

“NASA and Boeing now are targeting no earlier than Friday, April 2, for launch of the agency’s Boeing Orbital Flight Test-2 to the International Space Station,” NASA announced in a blog post, continuing that, “teams remain focused on the safety and quality of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft and successful launch of the end-to-end test to prove the system is ready to begin flying astronauts to and from the space station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.”

The development of the Starliner capsule has had its share of issues, like a number of problems with its first uncrewed orbital test flight in December 2019. The capsule didn’t make it to its planned destination of the International Space Station due to a computer error, and subsequent data showed a second software issue that could have caused the loss of the spacecraft.

Since then, Boeing has been working to fix the problems, and progress was made in other areas like the final parachute test and an emergency procedure rehearsal. The aim was to perform a second uncrewed orbital test flight to the ISS in March this year.

Now, that date is pushed back until April. The eight-day delay is due to the need to replace avionics units that were damaged by a power surge during a test.

“NASA continues to work alongside Boeing to prepare for this first mission of 2021,” Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said in the NASA post. “The Boeing and NASA teamwork on all aspects of flight preparation including final certification, hazard analysis, and software testing is extraordinary. Even though this uncrewed flight test to the International Space Station is a key milestone on the path to the first Starliner crewed mission planned for later this year, we will fly when we are ready.”

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