First manned flight of the Starliner postponed to 2023

The first manned flight of the Starliner will take place no earlier than 2023. This was stated at a press conference for the media by the manager of NASA’s commercial flight program, Steve Stich.

Starliner Technical Problems

The CST-100 Starliner was developed by Boeing under a NASA contract issued under the CCP program. Its goal is to create private manned spacecraft designed to deliver astronauts to the ISS. The second contract for this program went to SpaceX, which built the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Main characteristics of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft

Starliner is a rather problematic spacecraft. Its first unmanned test took place back in December 2019. But due to the incorrect operation of the propulsion system, the spacecraft did not have enough fuel to dock with the ISS, which led to the disruption of the test program. As a result, Boeing had to make a decision to carry out another unmanned launch.

The next Starliner test was scheduled for August 2021. However, the flight was disrupted due to damage to the valves responsible for supplying fuel to the orbital engines. This was due to the leakage of diazote tetroxide (used as an oxidizer). The damage was so severe that Boeing had to completely replace the spacecraft’s service module. 

As a result, a new test of the Starliner took place in May 2022. This time the spacecraft managed to dock with the ISS, although this time it was not without some problems.

First manned flight of the Starliner

Initially, Boeing expected that the first manned flight of the Starliner would be carried out before the end of 2022. However, in the end, it was decided to postpone it to 2023. This is due to the need to eliminate the shortcomings identified during the previous mission. We are talking about the premature shutdown of two engines of orbital maneuvering and orientation control of the spacecraft. In addition, during the analysis of telemetry, abnormal behavior of the VESTA system, which helps with docking with the ISS, was detected, as well as excessively high pressure in the spacecraft’s temperature control system.

Boeing Starliner spacecraft docked with the ISS. Photo: NASA

According to Boeing representatives, correcting the shortcomings will require making minor changes to the operation of the spacecraft systems. The company expects that the Starliner will be ready to make its first manned flight in February 2023. NASA is also focusing on this date.

During its first manned mission, Starliner will have to deliver two NASA astronauts to the ISS — Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams. The spacecraft will spend eight days as part of the orbital complex, after which it will return to Earth.

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