First Boeing Starliner flight with astronauts to be launched on June 1

After weeks of delays, Nasa's Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams will be on board the flight to the International Space Station

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Boeing will attempt to send two astronauts to space on board its Starliner capsule for the first time on Saturday, after a string of technical hitches delayed the initial lift-off by several weeks.

The mission, known as Crew Flight Test, is set to be launched at 12.25pm Eastern Time (8.25pm Gulf Standard Time) on June 1 from a spaceport in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Nasa astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams will be on board the flight to the International Space Station, where they are expected to dock at about 1.50pm ET on June 2.

“Wilmore and Williams will remain at the space station for about a week to test the Starliner spacecraft and its subsystems before Nasa works to complete final certification of the transportation system for rotational missions to the orbiting laboratory as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Programme,” Nasa said on Thursday.

The original launch date of May 6 was cancelled only hours before lift-off due to a faulty oxygen relief valve in the Atlas V rocket's Centaur upper stage.

The investigation and replacement of the valve pushed the launch back to May 17, and then further delays occurred after a helium leak was detected in the Starliner's service module.

Engineers were required to carry out a thorough analysis to ensure the system was reliable and safe.

They eventually concluded that the leak rate was not significant enough to delay the launch any further, but the company will work towards improving the design for future spacecraft.

Long-held space ambitions

Nasa awarded Boeing with a $4.2 billion contract under its Commercial Crew Programme, which aims to encourage companies to develop spacecraft that can deliver astronauts into space.

However, the development of the Starliner CST-100 has been plagued with delays because of various technical issues over the past decade.

Boeing completed an unmanned test flight in 2022 when a Starliner capsule docked on he ISS and returned to Earth.

The launch came about three years after an unsuccessful test flight in 2019, in which the craft failed to reach the station due to a software glitch.

Elon Musk's SpaceX, also part of the Commercial Crew Programme, has dominated the lucrative business and delivered eight crews to the ISS on behalf of Nasa since 2020.

The latest mission is pivotal for Boeing as it seeks to rebuild its reputation after two crashes involving 737 Max 8 jets and a mid-flight door panel blowout on a 737 Max 9 jet earlier this year.

With the Starliner project, the plane-maker aims to turn the page and restore faith in its engineering prowess.

Boeing and Nasa will broadcast the launch attempt on their website and social media channels.

Updated: May 31, 2024, 11:08 AM