Boeing has revealed that it is now targeting August 2021 for the second orbital test flight of its Starliner spacecraft. The new date follows a string of delays for the project in recent months.
When it finally gets off the ground on its Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission, the uncrewed spacecraft will head to the International Space Station (ISS) in a practice run ahead of astronaut trips to and from the orbiting outpost.
“The Starliner team has completed all work on the OFT-2 vehicle except for activity to be conducted closer to launch, such as loading cargo and fueling the spacecraft,” Boeing said in a release posted at the weekend.
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The Starliner’s first test flight took place in December 2019 but ended in failure when the spacecraft failed to make it into the correct orbit to reach the ISS. After extensive work to correct various issues that caused the failed the flight, Boeing has had to delay the second test mission several times.
The most recent target date was this month, but Boeing put it off while it replaced avionics units that were damaged by a power surge during a test. It’s also having to schedule a docking date with the ISS, which is currently experiencing a particularly busy period of activity with various spacecrafts coming and going, and has to coordinate with United Launch Alliance, the company that will lift Starliner into orbit atop its Atlas V rocket.
Boeing, which is partnering with NASA on Starliner’s test mission, said that it will actually be “mission-ready in May” and will “evaluate options if an earlier launch opportunity becomes available,” though the August target seems most likely at the current time.
Looking ahead, the aerospace giant said the Starliner team is also preparing for the first crewed flight of its capsule, with a target date for that mission dependent on the success of the upcoming test flight.
Boeing is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a public-private partnership that combines NASA’s space experience with private companies’ new technology, with the aim of increasing the availability of space travel.
The program has already succeeded in returning human spaceflight missions to U.S. soil, with crewed missions to the moon, and possibly Mars, also planned. In related news, NASA recently selected commercial space transportation company SpaceX to develop the lander that will take astronauts from moon orbit to the lunar surface in a NASA Artemis mission that could take place as early as 2024.