Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft could launch on its first crewed flight to the International Space Station in April next year, NASA has revealed.
However, that’s merely a target date and so we’ll have to continue to wait for official confirmation of a detailed launch schedule.
Boeing vice president and Starliner manager Mark Nappi said in August that the team is aiming to have the spacecraft ready in March, but at the time made no mention of a possible launch date.
“The first crewed flight of the Starliner spacecraft, named NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test (CFT), is planned for no earlier than mid-April,” NASA said in a post on its website on Thursday.
CFT will send NASA astronauts and test pilots Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams on a demonstration flight to confirm the capabilities of the Starliner system, the space agency said.
The spacecraft will launch atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The crew and spacecraft will spend about eight days at the space station before returning to Earth with a parachute and airbag-assisted desert landing in the western U.S.
Boeing has had a challenging time getting the Starliner to the point where it’s ready for its first crewed flight. The first uncrewed test flight was supposed to take place in 2017 but various issues delayed the program.
The capsule eventually headed to space in 2019, but the mission ended in disaster when the capsule failed to reach the correct orbit to take it to the ISS. It took three years of work to correct all of the issues, and Starliner eventually made it to the space station in an uncrewed test flight in 2022.
Officials had hoped to launch the first crewed flight in April this year, but various issues forced the mission to be delayed until July, before being delayed again.
Considering everything that’s gone before, don’t be too surprised if the Starliner and its crew don’t head to orbit next April.
NASA wants to use the Starliner as another vehicle for getting crew to and from the ISS, giving it greater flexibility when planning missions. It currently uses SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft for astronaut missions that begin and end in the U.S.
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