Boeing announced on Monday that it is aiming to have its Starliner capsule ready for its first manned flight with NASA astronauts by March next year. This comes after the company delayed the planned launch, which was originally scheduled for this summer. Despite this setback, Boeing remains committed to ensuring the spacecraft is fully prepared before setting a final launch date.
Mark Nappi, Vice President and Starliner manager at Boeing, spoke during a press conference, stating that the spacecraft is expected to be ready by early March. However, he clarified that this does not necessarily mean the launch will take place in March. Boeing is currently collaborating with NASA’s Commercial Crew program and the International Space Station (ISS), as well as United Launch Alliance (ULA), to determine the most suitable launch dates based on the readiness of the Starliner capsule. Over the next few weeks, the teams will work together to find an appropriate timeframe for the launch.
Boeing is diligently working towards the crew flight test, which will serve as the final demonstration before regular spaceflights commence. The test involves transporting NASA astronauts to the ISS using the Starliner capsule. Unfortunately, Boeing experienced two delays this year, primarily due to issues with the spacecraft’s parachutes and a specific type of tape used in its assembly. Consequently, crewed flights have been pushed back to next year.
During the press conference, representatives from NASA and Boeing addressed the ongoing challenges. The problematic tape used in the spacecraft assembly is set to be replaced by the end of September, while a parachute drop test is scheduled for “mid-to-late” November. Mark Nappi emphasized that the success of the parachute work is crucial in meeting the target launch date of March. Steve Stich, NASA’s Commercial Crew manager, mentioned that Starliner is currently 98% complete in terms of the agency certifying the spacecraft for astronaut transportation. However, predicting the timing of Boeing’s first operational flight remains uncertain until the final test flight is completed.
As for the first operational flight, Steve Stich cautiously stated that it might not be possible to determine whether it could fit in by the end of next year. The schedule will depend on the timing and outcome of the final test flight. Boeing’s Starliner project has faced significant delays and cost overruns, which have had financial implications for the company. Last month, Boeing reported that it has already incurred approximately $1.5 billion in overrun costs due to the prolonged development period.
Boeing’s commitment to safely launching NASA astronauts using the Starliner capsule remains steadfast. Despite the challenges faced with delays and technical issues, the company aims to have the spacecraft fully prepared for a manned flight by March next year. The collaborative efforts between Boeing, NASA, ULA, and the ISS will help determine the most suitable launch dates. Boeing is actively addressing the critical issues, such as the faulty tape and parachute concerns, to ensure the success of the upcoming crew flight test. While uncertainties remain regarding the timing of the first operational flight, Boeing and NASA are dedicated to meeting their goals and providing a reliable transportation system for astronauts to the ISS.