The launch date of Boeing ‘s first human-carrying Starliner capsule mission has been delayed from February to April 2023 as the company collaborates with NASA to address unresolved technical problems from the spacecraft’s final unmanned test flight, the U.S. space agency announced on Thursday.
The long-awaited Starliner mission, which will carry a crew of NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, is the last requirement before the spacecraft can be certified for routine flights. It will be a turning point for Boeing's space unit as it battles Elon Musk's SpaceX.
According to NASA, “as NASA and Boeing collaborate to achieve flight readiness,” the date adjustment “deconflicts visiting spacecraft traffic at the space station.”
In May, Boeing’s Starliner, a rocket-launched astronaut pod with a gumdrop shape, successfully completed its maiden unmanned flight test to the space station, making up for a 2019 voyage that was aborted due to technical difficulties.
Boeing discovered a number of technical problems with the spacecraft during the voyage, which it is currently attempting to resolve to the satisfaction of NASA, despite the fact that Starliner successfully demonstrated a space station docking in May.
In order to qualify Starliner’s crew trip, the business and NASA are “working on a range of verification initiatives across multiple essential systems,” the agency stated.
The two most time-consuming problems NASA and Boeing are working on before the crewed flight test are scrutinising Starliner’s parachutes and software, according to NASA’s commercial spaceflight director Phil McAlister on Monday.
Under an about $4.2 billion fixed-price NASA contract that was granted in 2014 and includes six operational Starliner missions, Boeing developed Starliner.
Since 2020, SpaceX’s competing Crew Dragon capsule has performed six crewed missions for NASA under a similar contract.
The company’s Starliner contract has grown to approximately $4.5 billion, and setbacks with the spacecraft have cost Boeing nearly $900 million since 2019.
This illustrates the challenges Boeing faces on fixed-price contract programmes.
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