Manufactured by Boeing for its participation in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, the Boeing CST-100 Starliner is designed to transport humans to the International Space Station. Its first crewed mission has been postponed for several months until this summer.
The Starliner’s Crew Flight Test (CFT) was first scheduled for April 2023, but Boeing and NASA are now planning the CFT launch no earlier than July 21, 2023. Starliner will liftoff on top of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 (SLC-41) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
A new launch window
On March 29 at a press conference, NASA’s Commercial Crew and ISS programs representatives announced that the teams are working together to close out verification and validation work before the first Starliner flight with a crew on board. In particular additional tests have been made on the parachute system and ion batteries.
Another reason for the postponement is the important traffic at the ISS in spring, with a SpaceX Cargo mission that will occupy the same docking port and the Axiom Space Ax-2 private spaceflight mission to the Space Station.
“We understand the significance of this mission for both us and NASA. We will launch when we are ready and that includes at a time when the International Space Station can accept our vehicle.”–Mark Nappi, Vice President and Program Manager of Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program
In the meantime
Steve Stich, NASA’s commercial crew program manager, said most of the work needed to prepare the mission for launch to the International Space Station will be completed by April. The test on the spacecraft’s integrated vehicle is going well, but there is only one exception: the certification work on the capsule’s parachutes. “There are no problems or concerns with the parachute system,” he said “It’s just about going through all that data and making sure we are ready to fly safely.”
Last week, NASA astronauts and Crew Flight Test (CFT) Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Pilot Sunita “Suni” Williams, and backup pilot Mike Fincke finished the second part of the Crew Equipment Interface Testing milestone.
Closer to launch the spacecraft will be fueled and loaded with updated software flight parameters ensuring a correct alignment with the ISS.
Starliner spacecraft and its importance for NASA
Made by a class of two partially reusable spacecraft, Boeing plans to alternate between two reusable crew modules for all planned Starliner missions. A new expendable service module will be used for every single flight and will provide propulsion and power-generation capacity for the spacecraft.
From 2011 with the end of the Space Shuttle Program until 2020 NASA had to rely on Russian rockets and capsules to get their astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Once Boeing starts getting people into orbit, it will further strengthen NASA’s independence from Russian systems to send NASA’s astronauts into space.