First space test flight for Boeing’s astronaut capsule put back to August

James Marshall
April 6, 2019

Boeing said the decision to delay the test was made to avoid conflicts with the U.S. Air Force, which is scheduled to use the same launch pad around the same time for its Advanced Extremely High Frequency 5 military communications satellite. The mission duration will be determined at a later date.

The US space agency said in a statement on Wednesday that after completing an in-depth technical assessment of the CST-100 Starliner systems, NASA and Boeing have agreed to extend the duration of the company's first crewed flight test to the International Space Station (ISS).

Officials are now targeting late 2019 for the Starliner's first flight with astronauts on board. "Commercial crew flight tests, along with the additional Soyuz opportunities, help us transition with greater flexibility to our next-generation commercial systems under the Commercial Crew Program". But the first test flight is now off until August. The crewed Orbital Flight Test has been pushed into an unspecified late 2019 date. NASA said at the time that those seats would ensure "uninterrupted access to the ISS in the event of a delay in US commercial crew launches". It is created to hold seven passengers or a mix of crew and cargo for missions to and from the International Space Station. SpaceX is now prepping for the In-Flight Abort Test, which Boeing also has to complete and is scheduled to make its first crewed Flight Test in July.

"We remain diligent, with a safety-first culture", said John Mulholland, Vice President and Programme Manager, Boeing's Commercial Crew Programme.

Boeing's Starliner spacecraft is created to be reusable up to 10 times, and will be used for the company's first full operational mission after certification.

NASA wants to reduce its reliance on expensive Russian Soyuz capsules as soon as possible, and so the Boeing test flight will double as a taxi mission for station residents. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are expected to spend no more than a couple weeks on the station on that test before returning to Earth.

The Demo-2 mission is scheduled for no earlier than July, according to the schedule NASA released in February, a month after an in-flight abort test using the same Dragon spacecraft that flew the uncrewed Demo-1 mission in March. The Starliner spacecraft, which was designed and built under a $4.2 billion contract from NASA, was delayed a year ago when a June test of its emergency abort system revealed a propellant leak.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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