Boeing's 1st astronaut flight to space delayed until July
Boeing's first launch of astronauts has been delayed again, this time until July
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Boeing’s first launch of astronauts has been delayed again, this time until July.
NASA announced the latest postponement Wednesday, saying more time is needed to certify and test the Starliner capsule's parachute system before the spacecraft blasts off with two test pilots. Additional software testing is also underway.
Boeing already was running years behind schedule when it had to repeat its test flight without a crew to the International Space Station because of software and other problems. The first was in 2019 and the second in 2022.
“We know that what we’re doing is extremely important, launching humans in space," Boeing's Mark Nappi told reporters. "So we’ll take our time and we'll make sure that everybody is confident with the work that’s been done.”
Liftoff is currently targeted for no earlier than July 21 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The Starliner capsule will ride atop United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket.
NASA hired Boeing and SpaceX a decade ago to ferry astronauts to and from the space station. SpaceX launched its seventh NASA crew earlier this month.
NASA, Boeing Prepare for Starliner Flight This Summer
NASA and Boeing now are targeting no earlier than Friday, July 21, for the agency’s Boeing Crew Flight Test (CFT) to the International Space Station, pending coordination for the U.S Eastern Range availability.
The new target date provides NASA and Boeing the necessary time to complete subsystem verification testing and close out test flight certification products and aligns with the space station manifest and range launch opportunities.
The goal of CFT is to test the end-to-end capabilities of the Starliner system with crew onboard, including the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, from prelaunch to docking and undocking to landing and recovery. Following a successful test flight, Boeing will work to finalize operational readiness for its post-certification missions and NASA will begin the final process of certifying the Starliner spacecraft and systems for regular, crewed missions to the space station.
Approximately 90% of the certification products required for the flight test are complete. NASA and Boeing anticipate closure on remaining CFT certification products this spring after ongoing verification testing of several subsystems is complete, including testing on the spacecraft’s backup manual flight mode for added redundancy in cases of emergency.
The Starliner spacecraft build is complete. The team is now working through final interior closeouts of the spacecraft and wrapping up integrated testing. The loading of cargo apart from some late-stow items also is complete. The next major hardware milestones are specific to the launch campaign timeline, such as spacecraft fueling and rolling out to the launch site.
Atlas V Status
NASA completed its rocket readiness assessment, which evaluates all CFT launch vehicle segment flight critical items prior to integration activities. All rocket hardware is at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, awaiting processing ahead of rocket stacking at the launch site.
The NASA astronauts who will fly on CFT recently completed the critical Crew Equipment Interface Test. Conducted in two parts during February and March, the test allowed astronauts to perform hands-on training with the tools, equipment and hardware they will use on orbit. In the first part, they worked with the Starliner team to perform in-cabin checkouts, including adjusting the spacecraft seats, inspecting spacecraft interfaces, examining cargo, and conducting floor panel and side hatch operations. The second part of the test included the astronauts maneuvering inside the cabin with cargo installed in the spacecraft.
NASA safety panel skeptical of Starliner readiness for crewed flight
WASHINGTON — The chair of a NASA safety panel urged the agency not to rush into a crewed test flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner vehicle, calling for an independent “deep look” at technical issues with the spacecraft.
Speaking at a May 25 public meeting of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, Patricia Sanders, chair of the committee, expressed skepticism that NASA and Boeing will be able to close known issues with Starliner in time for a launch currently scheduled for as soon as July 21.
“There remains a long line of NASA processes still ahead to determine launch readiness” for the Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission, the first crewed flight of the spacecraft with two NASA astronauts on board. “That should not be flown until safety risks can either be mitigated or accepted, eyes wide open, with an appropriately compelling technical rationale.”
She noted the projected launch date, but added it was simply an “opportunity in the launch schedule” and manifest of planned missions to the station. The current launch date for CFT would fit between a cargo Dragon mission, slated to depart the ISS in early July, and the Crew-7 Crew Dragon mission planned for launch in mid-August. That date, she said, is “not necessarily an acknowledgment of readiness to conduct that flight test.”
When NASA and Boeing announced March 29 the July launch date for CFT, a three-month slip, officials said it would give them more time to complete certification of the spacecraft, notably its parachutes. The delay would also allow them to check avionics systems in the spacecraft after finding a logic error in one unit.
Parachute certification remains a “pacing item” for the launch, Sanders said, but also brought up several other issues, some of which she said were only recently revealed through analysis of data products as part of the certification process. She mentioned specific open risks of ongoing integrated software testing as well as battery sidewall rupture concerns, a risk accepted “for the interim only.”
“It is imperative that NASA not succumb to pressure, even unconsciously, to get CFT launched without adequately addressing all the remaining impediments to certification,” she said, adding that any decision to accept risk for the short-duration CFT flight should not justify accepting it for later operational flights lasting up to six months.
“Given the number of remaining challenges to certification of Starliner, we strongly encourage NASA to step back and take a measured look at the remaining body of work with respect to flying CFT,” she concluded, arguing that the agency should bring in an independent team, such as from the NASA Engineering and Safety Center, “to take a deep look at the items on the path to closure.”
Neither Boeing nor NASA have provided many updates on the status of preparations for the CFT mission. A Boeing website devoted to Starliner updates was last updated with the March announcement of the new July launch date.
At a May 16 meeting of the NASA Advisory Council’s human exploration and operations committee, Phil McAlister, director of the commercial space division in NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate, reiterated the planned CFT launch date of no earlier than July 21. “We’ve made a lot of good progress over the last three or four months on the hardware. I think the hardware is in good shape,” he said.
However, he said that certification work continued on the vehicle and was the pacing item for CFT. Parachute verification was the “long pole” in completing that work, with more parachute testing planned before the mission. “That could potentially affect the date of the flight,” he said. “At this point, if the tests go nominally, we should have plenty of time to make the July 21 date. But, you never know. That’s why we do these tests.”