No earlier than 2024: The first manned flight of the Starliner is postponed again

Boeing has once again postponed the timing of the first manned flight of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. It will go into space no earlier than March 2024.

The most problematic spacecraft in history

The CST-100 Starliner may well be called one of the most problematic spacecraft in history. Its first unmanned test took place back in December 2019. But due to the incorrect operation of the engines, the spacecraft could not dock with the ISS. 

Preparation of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. Source: NASA

The next unmanned test was scheduled for August 2021. But the flight was disrupted due to an oxidizer leak that damaged the valves responsible for the fuel supply. As a result, engineers had to completely replace the Starliner service module.

Starliner went into space again only in May 2022. This time the spacecraft managed to dock with the ISS, although not without some problems. Nevertheless, according to the test results, NASA approved the first test flight of the Starliner with a crew including astronauts Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams. The flight plan assumed that they would spend eight days on board the ISS, after which they would return to Earth.

But the problems didn’t end there. After obtaining permission for the first manned flight of the Starliner, its date was repeatedly postponed: from the end of 2022 to the spring of 2023, then to the summer. At the end of May, NASA and Boeing specialists even managed to report that they had completed 95% of all certification work required for the flight of the spacecraft. And then it was postponed indefinitely due to problems with the spacecraft’s parachute system, as well as the tape used to wind the wires, which turned out to be flammable.

Timing of the new Starliner flight

At a press conference held on August 7, representatives of NASA and Boeing reported on progress in eliminating the identified problems. So, the company’s engineers have redesigned the parachute system. In November, they plan to conduct a test with the reset of the Starliner capsule to check the reliability of its operation.

Landing of the Starliner spacecraft capsule. Source: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Specialists are also engaged in removing the P-213 tape, which is flammable under certain conditions. They have already removed about 85% of the tape at the top of the spacecraft. In the lower part of the Starliner, this is more difficult to do because of the risk of damage to the wiring. Therefore, engineers use different methods, for example, wrapping sections with P-213 with another, safer tape.

At the moment, neither Boeing nor NASA are ready to name the exact date of the next Starliner launch attempt. But it is known that the spacecraft can go to the ISS no earlier than March 2024. This, in turn, means that its first full-fledged mission to rotate the station’s crew may take place no earlier than 2025.

It is also worth saying that the constant delays and postponements of the Starliner have already caused significant losses to Boeing. At the moment, they have exceeded the amount of one billion dollars.

According to

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