Skip to main content

Starliner’s return to Earth delayed again, until next month

Boeing's Starliner capsule docked at the ISS.
NASA / NASA

The Boeing Starliner that is currently docked at the International Space Station (ISS) after making its first crewed test flight will not be returning to Earth this week as planned. The return of the Starliner has already been delayed once, but now NASA has announced that the return will not take place until early July.

The Starliner launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 6 and made it safely to the ISS carrying NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore. However, there were problems with helium leaks both before and during the journey as well as an issue with the spacecraft’s reaction control thrusters that required two attempts at docking.

Now, NASA is delaying the return of the Starliner to make more time to investigate these issues. “We are taking our time and following our standard mission management team process,” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, in a statement. “We are letting the data drive our decision-making relative to managing the small helium system leaks and thruster performance we observed during rendezvous and docking. Additionally, given the duration of the mission, it is appropriate for us to complete an agency-level review, similar to what was done ahead of … NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 return after two months on orbit, to document the agency’s formal acceptance on proceeding as planned.”

NASA has not yet announced a specific date for the planned return, but has said that it will be after two upcoming spacewalks that are scheduled for Monday, June 24, and Tuesday, July 2. One of these spacewalks was delayed from its original date of June 13 due to an unusual reason: a discomfort issue with a spacesuit for one of the spacewalkers.

Space station managers typically plan for there to be some wiggle room between dates for major events like departures and arrivals of crewed or supply spacecraft and spacewalks so that the crew can focus on one event at a time. NASA emphasized that the delays in the departure of the Starliner don’t mean that the spacecraft is a danger or that the crew members are unsafe.

“Starliner is performing well in orbit while docked to the space station,” said Stich. “We are strategically using the extra time to clear a path for some critical station activities while completing readiness for Butch and Suni’s return on Starliner and gaining valuable insight into the system upgrades we will want to make for post-certification missions.”

For now, Williams and Wilmore will remain on the ISS with the other crew members, and NASA says they are “not pressed for time to leave” as there are plenty of supplies for everyone to stay comfortably.

“The crew’s feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and they know that every bit of learning we do on the Crew Flight Test will improve and sharpen our experience for future crews,” said Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager of Boeing’s Starliner Program.

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
Boeing Starliner arrives safely at the ISS, but it sprung more leaks along the way
Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, with NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams aboard, approaches the International Space Station for an autonomous docking as it orbited 257 miles above the South Pacific Ocean.

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, with NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams aboard, approaches the International Space Station for an autonomous docking as it orbited 257 miles above the South Pacific Ocean. NASA Television

Boeing's Starliner has completed its first crewed journey to the International Space Station (ISS), carrying NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams following its dramatic launch yesterday. The Starliner docked with this ISS at 1:34 p.m. ET, after a journey of just over 24 hours from its launch from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Read more
Boeing Starliner successfully launches carrying two NASA astronauts
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying a Boeing Starliner spacecraft launches NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Wednesday, June 5, 2024.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying a Boeing Starliner spacecraft launches NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Wednesday, June 5, 2024. NASA Television

The Boeing Starliner spacecraft has finally launched, taking off from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida today, June 5. This is the third attempt at a launch for the spacecraft, which is carrying two astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

Read more
How to watch the first crewed flight of the Starliner spacecraft
Boeing Space's Starliner spacecraft.

NASA Live: Official Stream of NASA TV

[UPDATE: The first crewed launch attempt on Monday, May 6, was scrubbed two hours before liftoff due to an issue with the Atlas V rocket. Several other target dates have also been scrapped to give engineers more time to fix a number of issues. NASA is now hoping to launch the Starliner on the morning of Wednesday, June 5. This article has been adjusted to include the new schedule.]

Read more