NASA, Boeing tweak launch date for Starliner do-over mission to the ISS
The first uncrewed test flight didn't work out so well, so Boeing is gearing up to try again in March.
SpaceX and its Crew Dragon spacecraft have been a bright spot in NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which returned astronaut launches to US soil in 2020. Boeing, the other Commercial Crew provider, still has some work to do before it carries a NASA crew to the International Space Station.
On Monday, NASA announced a new target date of March 25 to launch the second uncrewed test flight of Boeing's Starliner. Last fall, NASA had been aiming for March 29, so the new date pushes up the target by a few days. The mission is called Orbital Flight Test-2, or OFT-2.
Developing spacecraft is challenging, and hurdles and delays are a normal part of the process.
The first major CST-100 Starliner flight test in late 2019 didn't go as planned. The spacecraft failed to reach the ISS, but it did return to Earth safely. An investigation turned up software defects and a communications link problem. Boeing vowed to conduct a second orbital flight test to prove the spacecraft's safety before it carries humans on board.
Boeing has been working to address the problems from the first flight test. "Teams conducted a full software review and several series of tests to verify Starliner's software meets design specifications," said NASA in a statement. Boeing will also conduct a full simulation of the test flight prior to launch.
If OFT-2 is successful, then NASA and Boeing will look to launch an actual crew to the ISS later in 2021. That would put both SpaceX and Boeing in business as providers of ISS flights. That's the ultimate goal of a NASA program that has already ended the US reliance on Russian spacecraft to ferry astronauts to the space station.