First flight of Boeing Starliner spacecraft could slip again
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — It is being reported that Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, which is being producing as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP), has encountered another delay. If accurate, this latest delay could see the mission pushed back by almost half a year.
A post by Reuters has estimated that pushing back the uncrewed Starliner test flight (Orbital Flight Test 1) could mean astronauts will not fly on the spacecraft until November, 2019.
Reuters’ Eric M. Johnson and posts on Twitter are some of the first signs that OFT-1 would not be taking place in April and would now fly no-earlier-than August. This latest delay is nothing new for either Boeing or the other company working under CCP, SpaceX both of which have seen the dates of the various objectives required under CCP slide “to the right.”
SpaceX has completed both the pad abort test as well as the first uncrewed test flight of the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. If the current schedule holds, SpaceX will have completed the company’s Demo Flight-2 ( Boeing and SpaceX uses different designations for the mission milestones they are required to complete) four months prior to Boeing’s uncrewed flight lifting of from Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 41.
Ars Technica’s Eric Berger noted that this possible delay might not necessarily be a bad thing as the Starliner planned for use on OFT-1 will be similar to the one that astronauts themselves will use. Boeing could move on to the crewed portions of its goals in fairly short order after that.
If the reports are accurate, the current Boeing and SpaceX test regime is as follows:
- SpaceX Pad Abort Test – Completed May 6, 2015
- SpaceX Demo Flight-1 – Completed March 8, 2019
- SpaceX In Flight Abort Test – Scheduled for June 2019
- SpaceX Demo Flight-2 – Scheduled for July 2019
- Boeing Pad Abort Test – Scheduled for May 2019
- Boeing Orbital Flight Test 1 – Scheduled for August 2019 (according to Reuters)
- Boeing Orbital Flight Test-2 – Scheduled for November 2019 (according to Reuters)
Abort tests are critical for demonstrating that Starliner can safely return astronauts to the ground should an accident occur either at the pad or while the Atlas V rocket is in flight. A problem with one of the abort engines caused toxic hydrazine fuel to leak which also forced the company’s schedule to be adjusted.
NASA has awarded a total of $6.8 billion to both of the company’s competing under CCP to provide launch and landing services to astronauts traveling to and from the International Space Station. At present, the United States is dependent on Russia for access to the orbital laboratory.
SpaceFlight Insider reached out to both Boeing and NASA regarding this latest reported delay. As of the publication of this report, neither have responded. A mistake stating that Boeing would conduct an in-flight abort test was corrected at 12:51 p.m. ET on March 22.
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.