Boeing’s Starliner Delayed Again, Now Expected April 2023

Boeing’s Starliner Delayed Again, Now Expected April 2023

NASA announced today that the Crew Flight Test of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft has been postponed again. Now expected in April 2023, a slip from February, it will take two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station for a two-week visit to certify the spacecraft meets NASA requirements. Meanwhile, routine crew rotation flights will continue using SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.

Starliner and Crew Dragon are part of NASA’s commercial crew program, a Public-Private Partnership where the government and private sector share development costs through a fixed price contract. The companies retain ownership of the vehicles and are expected to find non-NASA customers to close the business case.

SpaceX has done that with Crew Dragon. SpaceX flew Demo-2, its version of the crewed flight test, in May 2020 and met the certification requirements. Last month it launched with astronauts aboard for the eighth time. Two of the flights were for non-NASA customers and several more are on the books.

Liftoff of Crew-5, SpaceX’s 5th operational launch (6th overall) for NASA of astronauts to the International Space Station, October 5, 2022. Photo credit: NASA

The next mission for NASA, Crew-6, is scheduled for mid-February 2023, about the time Starliner was most recently scheduled for launch. Today NASA said the Starliner slip to April “deconflicts visiting spacecraft traffic at the space station as NASA and Boeing work together to achieve flight readiness.”

Starliner has encountered a number of delays over the years, putting it far behind SpaceX even though both companies were awarded contracts at the same time in September 2014. Boeing got $4.2 billion, while SpaceX got $2.6 billion.

As a fixed price contract, Boeing must absorb the cost of the delays and fixing the problems that have emerged, including the need for a second uncrewed test flight after the first attempt in December 2019 encountered significant issues. The second test, Orbital Flight Test-2, finally flew in May after it, too, experienced unexpected problems hours before an attempted launch in August 2021.

Boeing Starliner’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 about to land at White Sands Missile Range, NM, May 25, 2022. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel said last week OFT-2 met over 250 test objectives, but also “produced a number of in-flight anomalies” that had to be addressed.

Boeing has spent almost $900 million of its own money on the program so far and warned investors last week there may be more charges against earnings to come.

Two NASA astronauts, Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams, will be aboard Starliner’s Crew Flight Test mission.

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