Things are not looking good for Boeing’s Starliner capsule, which is intended to transport astronauts between Earth and the International Space Station (ISS). After the cancellation of a second orbital test flight of the capsule earlier this summer, NASA confirmed that the test is now postponed until 2022.
Starliner’s problems date back to December 2019, when its first unmanned orbital test flight failed to reach the ISS as planned. Subsequent tests showed a number of problems, some of which were severe enough to have resulted in catastrophic failure of the craft. Engineers worked on these issues throughout 2020 and had hoped to conduct a second orbital flight test on August 4, 2021, also unmanned. But that test was canceled when a value issue was discovered.
Boeing said it was working to resolve the issue and hoped to continue testing over the summer. But a solution to the problem has proved elusive.
Now NASA confirms that the test will not take place this year. “The potential launch windows for OFT-2 continue to be evaluated by NASA, Boeing, United Launch Alliance and Eastern Range,” NASA wrote in a blog post. “The team is currently working on opportunities in the first half of 2022 while awaiting the preparation of the material, the rocket manifesto and the availability of the space station.”
The delay in this test has led to some reshuffle of NASA astronauts for upcoming missions. NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada were initially assigned to two Starliner missions: Mann on the Starliner’s first crewed test flight and Cassada on the Starliner-1’s first operational mission. From now on, Mann and Cassada will instead fly to the ISS aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, as part of the Crew-5 mission which is slated for fall 2022.
“NASA decided it was important to make these reallocations to give Boeing time to complete Starliner development while continuing plans for astronauts to gain space flight experience for future mission needs. ‘agency,’ the agency wrote.