Boeing is targeting March 29, 2021, for an attempt to fly its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on a round trip to the International Space Station. The launch will come 15 months after a failed effort last year.
Starliner is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program that partners with private companies — currently Boeing and SpaceX — to ferry astronauts and cargo between Earth and the space station.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is currently docked at the station after carrying four astronauts there last month following a successful crewed test mission to the orbiting outpost over the summer.
Boeing has been having a harder time readying its own Starliner capsule for space flight. Its first orbital flight test in December 2019 was aborted when the uncrewed spacecraft failed to make it into the correct orbit to take it to the space station, though it managed to return to Earth in one piece.
A subsequent investigation uncovered multiple issues with Starliner’s software that Boeing has since fixed in readiness for next year’s flight test, officially known as Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2). The aerospace giant has also been working on perfecting Starliner’s parachute-based landing system to ensure a safe and comfortable landing for future astronauts who travel inside the spacecraft.
“Boeing is making solid progress on the path to flying a second uncrewed test mission and preparing for the company’s Crew Flight Test in 2021,” Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, said in a release. “Our teams are focused on applying the lessons learned, and it won’t be long until we see Starliner visiting its destination — the International Space Station.”
For the OFT-2 mission in March, Starliner will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. After a week spent docked at the space station, the capsule will return to Earth and come down on land in the western U.S.
The mission is designed to demonstrate that the entire system is safe for crewed flights. Three astronauts are already lined up for the first space station mission using Starliner, which is also expected to take place next year.
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