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NASA now aiming to launch Starliner astronauts flight next month

The Starliner on the launchpad atop an Atlas V rocket.
The Starliner sits on the launchpad atop an Atlas V rocket. NASA

After a series of recent delays, NASA and Boeing Space are now aiming to perform the first crewed launch of the Starliner spacecraft on Saturday, June 1.

The decision to target June follows a series of launch postponements over the last month. On May 6, for example, a launch attempt from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida was called off with just two hours left on the countdown clock after an issue was found with a valve on the Centaur upper stage of United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V rocket.

As engineers worked on fixing the problem in the days that followed, a small helium leak was discovered on the Starliner, prompting NASA and Boeing to scrap a new launch target of May 17.

Two more target dates have also slipped by and NASA said it’s now aiming to launch NASA astronauts Bob Wilmore and Suni Williams on the Starliner at 12:25 p.m. this coming Saturday.

“There has been a great deal of exceptional analysis and testing over the last two weeks by the joint NASA, Boeing, and ULA teams to replace the Centaur Self Regulating Valve and troubleshoot the Starliner Service Module helium manifold leak,” Steve Stich, manager of the NASA Commercial Crew Program, said in a post on the space agency’s website.

Stich added: “It has been important that we take our time to understand all the complexities of each issue, including the redundant capabilities of the Starliner propulsion system and any implications to our Interim Human Rating Certification.”

While waiting for the much-anticipated mission, Wilmore and Williams are continuing to practice aboard Starliner simulators. The two astronauts remain quarantined in Houston and will fly back to Kennedy in the coming days.

The Starliner has been years in development and up until now has flown only twice. The first test mission in 2019 ended when the capsule failed to reach the correct orbit to take it to the International Space Station (ISS). The mission surfaced a number of software problems that had to be resolved.

The second flight took place in 2022 and managed to reach the ISS. Following more work to improve the Starliner, it’s now ready to carry its first astronauts to orbit.

NASA wants to use the Starliner as a second option for crewed flights to the ISS alongside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, which has been performing astronaut flights since 2020.

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Trevor Mogg
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