Boeing delays ‘Starliner’ capsule test flight

Boeing confirmed on Tuesday that it will delay the uncrewed test flight of its commercial crew vehicle, citing a tight schedule and conflicts with another launch.

In a statement, Boeing said the first flight of its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, called the Orbital Flight Test, is now scheduled for August on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. That launch had been scheduled for this May.

In the statement, Boeing said it had entered the “final phases of production” of the Starliner that will fly that uncrewed test flight. “Our Starliner team continues to press toward a launch readiness date later this spring,” the company said, which also included the completion of a final set of testing milestones.

Boeing, though, said the issue was a pad conflict with the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) 5 military communications satellite, scheduled to launch in late June on another Atlas 5 from the same pad. Boeing said they had only a two-day launch window in May available for the Starliner launch before they would have to stand down for the AEHF 5 launch.

“In order to avoid unnecessary schedule pressure, not interfere with a critical national security payload, and allow appropriate schedule margin to ensure the Boeing, United Launch Alliance and NASA teams are able to perform a successful first launch of Starliner, we made the most responsible decision available to us and will be ready for the next launch pad availability in August,” the company said.

Boeing said that, even with the delay in the uncrewed test, it expects to carry out that crewed test flight, which will carry two NASA astronauts and Boeing test pilot Chris Ferguson, “later this year”.

NASA last published the schedule of commercial crew test flights for the 6th of February, since that last update, SpaceX carried out its first commercial crew mission, the uncrewed Demo-1 test flight, launching 2nd March and returning to Earth six days later.

The schedule called for a crewed flight test of SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle, carrying two NASA astronauts, in July. That date is also expected to slip, although neither NASA nor SpaceX have provided an update on the schedule for that mission or the status of reviews of the Demo-1 test flight.

Despite the delays, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is positive about both commercial companies completing crew test flights before the year ends.

Source : Various