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Boeing Starliner Crewed Flight Test Delayed To 2024

Boeing and NASA have announced another delay for the first crewed flight of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner; they are now targeting no earlier than March 2024. 

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Tue Aug 08 2023Written by Zac Aubert

Boeing and NASA have announced another delay for the first crewed flight of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner; they are now targeting no earlier than March 2024. 

The decision to postpone the flight was attributed to ongoing concerns regarding the spacecraft's parachutes and wiring. Both Boeing and NASA expressed optimism about the progress being made to address these issues, but they acknowledged the need for several more months of work before the vehicle would be deemed ready for NASA astronauts.

One of the primary challenges encountered during development was related to the "soft links" in the parachutes, which were found to be weaker than expected.

This deficiency prevented the parachute system from achieving the required factor of safety for crewed flights. The team is actively redesigning this aspect of the parachute system and plans to test the revised design in a drop test scheduled for the latter half of November.

Mark Nappi, Boeing's vice president and program manager for Starliner, highlighted that this drop test would also validate an updated overall parachute design intended for the first operational flight of the Starliner. This design alteration was accelerated for the upcoming Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission.

Unlike SpaceX's Crew Dragon, which underwent a series of drop tests for parachute revisions, the team working on Starliner believes a single test will be sufficient to validate the changes.

Additionally, technicians have been addressing issues related to flammable wiring harness tape (P-213) used in the spacecraft. The tape had been utilized in environments where its flammability could pose a hazard due to inconsistencies in entries in a NASA database. Progress has been made in removing 85% of the tape from the upper part of the spacecraft. For areas where tape removal is challenging or potentially damaging, engineers have devised protective barriers, coatings, or wrapping techniques to mitigate the flammability hazard.

No specific launch date was provided for the CFT mission, which is set to carry NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams to the International Space Station, it was indicated that the current target is early March 2024.

Boeing will collaborate with NASA and United Launch Alliance (ULA) to determine a suitable launch date based on ISS and Atlas 5 launch schedules. There are number of potential scheduling conflicts in March due to Roscosmos crew rotations using the Soyuz spacecraft, and possibility of cargo resupply mission.

The delay in the CFT mission to at least spring 2024 may also impact the timeline for the first operational, or post-certification, mission, which could potentially be pushed back to 2025. Although NASA suggested the end of 2024 as a possible timeline for this mission, the evolving launch schedules of Crew Dragon crew rotation missions may influence the final date.

Despite the challenges and setbacks, Boeing remains committed to fulfilling its contractual obligations for a series of six post-certification missions.

These missions are expected to occur roughly once a year through the end of the decade, even as Boeing's losses on the Starliner program have exceeded $1 billion. NASA emphasized its desire to have two commercial crew providers, with Starliner alternating with Crew Dragon, ensuring continued access to the International Space Station.

As the teams work diligently to address the remaining issues and finalize the CST-100 Starliner for crewed missions, the future of commercial crew transportation remains a focal point for NASA and its partners, aiming to enable a robust and sustainable presence in low Earth orbit.