Will Boeing’s $4.3 Billion Starliner Ever Get Astronauts to Space?

Will Boeing’s $4.3 Billion Starliner Ever Get Astronauts to Space?

We’ve waited a long time for Boeing’s first crewed test flight to the International Space Station (ISS), and it now appears that we’re going to have to wait even longer. The next launch of the Starliner CST-100 spacecraft has been pushed back yet again as NASA assesses its readiness.

Boeing’s Starliner launch was originally scheduled for February then later moved to late April, and now likely will not happen until the summer. According to Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate, the Boeing Crewed Flight Test (CFT) will launch after the Axiom-2 private astronaut mission to the ISS, which is planned for early May. “We’re adjusting the Space Station schedule including the launch date for our Boeing Crew Flight Test as teams assess readiness and complete verification work,” Lueders tweeted on Thursday.

It’s been a rough ride for Boeing’s first attempt at delivering a crew to the ISS as part of a $US4.3 billion contract with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The plan is for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to transport astronauts back and forth to the ISS, the same way that NASA’s other commercial partner SpaceX does using its Dragon capsule. SpaceX recently launched its sixth crew to the ISS, while Boeing remains at zero.

In May 2022, Boeing completed the Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2), the second uncrewed test flight of Starliner, setting the stage for a crewed test flight. But OFT-2 suffered a few hiccups, including the failure of a thruster used for orbital manoeuvring, in addition to a slew of problems and delays that have marred the program from the start.

But NASA is still following through with its commercial partner, even selecting a two-person crew to fly aboard Starliner. But in November 2022, NASA delayed the first crewed test flight from February to April 2023 to avoid a scheduling conflict with the SpaceX Crew-6 mission to the ISS. The space agency also booked additional crewed launches with SpaceX, namely Crew-7 through to Crew-14. That should set NASA up for trips to the ISS until 2030, which is when the space station is set to retire. Boeing is booked for six crewed flights to the ISS, and it remains unclear when those might happen.

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