Boeing Starliner Orbital Flight Test Delayed to December 19

Boeing Starliner Orbital Flight Test Delayed to December 19

Boeing announced today that the uncrewed flight test of its CST-100 Starliner commercial crew system to the International Space Station (ISS) has been delayed by two days.  The eagerly anticipated Orbital Flight Test (OFT) is the company’s next major milestone before the vehicle can be used to take astronauts to and from the ISS.

Speaking at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce this morning, Boeing Senior Vice President for Space & Launch Jim Chilton revealed the delay.  A company tweet quickly followed explaining the problem is with the United Launch Alliance’s (ULA’s) Atlas V rocket, not the Starliner spacecraft.

ULA is a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture.  It issued a statement as well.

OFT will not carry any people.  It is an uncrewed flight test to the ISS.  Once that test is successfully completed Boeing will fly a Crewed Flight Test (CFT) with three astronauts on board: Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson (a former NASA astronaut) and NASA astronauts Nicole Stott and Mike Fincke.

Boeing is one of two companies building commercial crew space transportation systems as public-private partnerships with NASA.   SpaceX is the other.

SpaceX successfully completed its uncrewed flight test, Demo-1, in March.  It plans to conduct an In-Flight Abort test this month to demonstrate that its abort system can safely separate the Crew Dragon spacecraft from the Falcon 9 rocket during ascent to orbit after it leaves the launch pad. Then it will have its crewed test flight, Demo-2, with two NASA astronauts: Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken.  The date has not been set.

Boeing is not conducting a similar in-flight abort test, though it did have a Pad Abort Test last month.  In that case the spacecraft was not atop a rocket, but on a test stand in the New Mexico desert.  A pad abort would happen if a problem occurred while the rocket and spacecraft were still on the launch pad as opposed to enroute to space.  SpaceX did a Pad Abort test in 2015.

All of these tests are leading to a day when the Boeing and SpaceX systems can routinely take astronauts to and from the ISS.  The United States has not been able to launch anyone to the ISS since the space shuttle program was terminated in 2011.  It pays Russia to ferry crews back and forth.

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