Boeing delays first crewed ISS launch on Starliner capsule until 2024

A successful manned test flight is mandatory before aerospace company can begin commercial operations

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Boeing has postponed its first crewed launch on its Starliner capsule until March, as it continues to work on technical issues.

The aerospace company is contracted by Nasa to launch its astronauts to the International Space Station, but several delays have kept Boeing from beginning commercial operations.

Only SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft can launch astronauts from the US as of now, but Nasa also has agreements with Russia on using their Soyuz capsule to send astronauts to the ISS.

The Starliner spacecraft would help give Nasa another transportation method to orbit, as well as help Boeing launch private missions.

A crewed test flight was meant to take place on July 21, but that was pushed back after issues were discovered with the capsule's parachute system and wiring.

Inside Starliner Capsule

Inside Starliner Capsule

During a virtual media briefing held on Monday, officials said a launch this year is not going to happen.

"Based on current plans, we're anticipating that we're going to be ready with the spacecraft in early March," said Mark Nappi, Boeing's Starliner vice president and programme manager.

"That does not mean that we have a launch date in early March, that means that we are ready with the spacecraft.

"We're now working with the Nasa Commercial Crew Programme, ISS and ULA (United Launch Alliance – the rocket the spacecraft would blast off on) on potential launch dates based and our readiness."

Nasa astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams are training to fly on the first crewed test flight to the ISS on the Starliner.

Joel Montalbano, ISS programme manager at Nasa, said that Boeing will be an important addition to the agency's commercial crew programme.

"I'll tell you from an ISS standpoint, the Starliner vehicle remains a high priority to the space station programme," he said.

"And as Mark said, when the Boeing team, the Commercial Crew Programme, ULA are ready, it's my job to go find a slot on ISS and that's the plan.

"So having a second crew provider is very important to the agency and to our programmes and that's something that we are working hard to make sure that we achieve from an ISS standpoint."

The start of commercial operations could also help space nations with new astronaut programmes that are looking for more access to space.

Countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Turkey would benefit from more transportation methods to low-Earth orbit as they are non-ISS partners and do not have their own rockets.

Apart from launching missions for Nasa, SpaceX has also used its launch capabilities to send private missions to space, including to the orbiting outpost.

Saudi Arabia launched two astronauts, Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali Al Qarni, on a SpaceX rocket through a trip that was arranged by Axiom Space – a space infrastructure company based in Houston, Texas.

Boeing has already completed an uncrewed test flight to the space station last year when a Starliner capsule launched from Florida and docked at the ISS 24 hours later.

The launch came almost three years after a failed test flight in 2019 that foiled the spacecraft's ability to reach the space station, owing to a software glitch.

Updated: August 08, 2023, 4:35 PM