The first crewed Starliner flight was further delayed

WASHINGTON — NASA has delayed the first flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle with astronauts on board, a slip-up that will push back the spacecraft’s first operational mission to 2024.

NASA said Nov. 3 that the Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission, with the agency’s astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Suni Williams aboard, was now scheduled for April 2023. The mission was previously scheduled for February .

NASA said the new date avoids a conflict with the SpaceX Crew-6 mission to the International Space Station, which is currently scheduled to launch in mid-February. “The date adjustment precludes the movement of visiting spacecraft to the space station as NASA and Boeing work together to achieve flight readiness,” the agency said, adding that both the Starliner and the Atlas 5 rocket “remain in orbit readiness at the beginning of 2023”.

However, at an Oct. 27 meeting of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Committee, members expressed doubts about the vehicle’s readiness for both CFT and subsequent operational missions.

“While it is fortunate that the US has a functioning ISS crew launch provider, we must continue to express our grave concern about the impact of the ongoing CST-100 program delays on the commercial crew program,” said Mark Sirangelo. panel member. That impact, he said, includes the lack of layoffs the program intended by selecting two companies.

It noted that the Starliner’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) 2 flight in May “caused a number of in-flight anomalies” that must be resolved before the CFT, as well as additional testing of the latest version of its flight software.

Sirangelo added that NASA’s commercial crew program was pursuing additional long-term issues with Starliner, including the transition to the first operational or post-certification missions, the transition from the Atlas 5 vehicle that United Launch Alliance is retiring and the availability of backup hardware. “which may further delay the second source provider’s connection to the internet.”

At a meeting of NASA’s Advisory Board’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee on Oct. 31, Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight at NASA Headquarters, hinted at a possible delay to the CFT mission, saying a new launch date would be announced soon soon However, he played down any problems with the spacecraft.

“There were several in-flight anomalies that we needed to evaluate” from the OFT-2 mission, he said. “Some of it is still in progress. This project must be completed and closed prior to the CFT flight.”

Asked later about specific issues with the Starliner being studied, McAlister said work continued on parachutes and software. There were also problems with the booster on the uncrewed mission, but those are “fairly understandable and in hand,” he said. “I wouldn’t call it anything major.”

The delay in CFT will affect the timing of subsequent operational missions. When the CFT was scheduled to launch in February, NASA had planned to follow it with the first operational Starliner mission, called Starliner-1, in the fall of 2023. Once the Starliner is certified, NASA plans to alternate the Starliner and Crew Dragon missions .

But NASA said it moved up SpaceX’s Crew-7 mission, previously scheduled for spring 2024, to fall 2023, indicating the agency no longer believes the Starliner can be certified in time for an operational mission in fall of 2023.

“The launch date for NASA’s Boeing Starliner-1 mission will be determined after a successful flight test with astronauts and closure of the agency’s certification project,” NASA said in its announcement of the delay.

Boeing announced on Oct. 26 as part of its quarterly financial results that it would take a $195 million additional charge to earnings for Starliner delays, bringing the total losses the company recorded to $883 million. It warned in a regulatory filing that “we may record additional losses in future periods.”

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