Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is seen before docking with the International Space Station on May 20, 2022 during the uncrewed OFT-2 mission.
Boeing said Monday it aims to be ready to fly NASA astronauts with its Starliner capsule for the first time by March, resetting its timeline after the company delayed a planned launch this summer.
“Based on the current plans, we’re anticipating that we’re going to be ready with the spacecraft in early March,” Boeing VP and Starliner manager Mark Nappi said during a press conference.
“That does not mean we have a launch date in early March,” Nappi added. “We’re now working with NASA — Commercial Crew program and [International Space Station] — and ULA [United Launch Alliance] on potential launch dates based on our readiness … we’ll work throughout the next several weeks and see where we can get fit in and then then we’ll set a launch date.”
The company continues to work toward Starliner’s crew flight test, which is planned to carry NASA astronauts to the ISS in a final demonstration before beginning regular spaceflights.
Boeing delayed the launch twice this year — most recently due to issues with the spacecraft’s parachutes and a type of tape used in its assembly — and now expects the capsule won’t fly crew until next year.
On Monday, representatives from NASA and Boeing said work to replace the problematic tape is expected to be complete by the end of September, and a parachute drop test is planned for “mid-to-late” November. Boeing’s Nappi noted that the parachute work “is the critical path” toward being ready in March.
NASA’s Commercial Crew manager Steve Stich said Starliner is 98% complete in terms of progress toward the agency certifying the spacecraft to carry its astronauts.
As for the timing of Boeing’s first operational flight, Stich deferred, saying it depends on the timing and outcome of the final test flight.
“Could we fit it into the end of next year? It’s probably a little too early to tell whether we could fit that flight in or not,” Stich said.
Starliner continues to be a costly and behind-schedule endeavor for Boeing. Due to the years of delays and development cost overruns, Boeing last month reported that it’s absorbed about $1.5 billion in overrun costs to date.