Boeing's Starliner could be ready for crewed flights by next March

The company's launch efforts this year were thrown off by a pair of lengthy technical delays.


Boeing has rediscovered just how hard space can be in recent months, as its ambitious Starliner program has been repeatedly sidelined by lingering technical issues. However, the company announced at a press conference Monday that it is confident that it will have those issues ironed out by next March and will be ready to test its reusable crew capsule with live NASA astronauts aboard.

“Based on the current plans, we’re anticipating that we’re going to be ready with the spacecraft in early March. That does not mean we have a launch date in early March,” Boeing VP and Starliner manager Mark Nappi stressed during the event, per CNBC. “We’re now working with NASA – Commercial Crew program and [International Space Station] – and ULA 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 Starliner has been in development for nearly fifteen years now, first being unveiled in 2010. It's Boeing's entry into the reusable crew capsule race, which is currently being dominated by SpaceX with its Dragon 2.

The two companies were actually awarded grants at the same time in 2014 to develop systems capable of transporting astronauts to the ISS with a contract deadline of 2017. By 2016, Boeing's first scheduled launch had already been pushed from 2017 to late 2018. By April 2018, NASA was tempering its launch expectations to between 2019 and 2020.

The first uncrewed orbital test flight in late 2019 failed to reach orbit, which further delayed the project. NASA, however, did agree to pay for a second uncrewed test in August of 2021. That test never made it off the launch pad due to a "valve issue." Fixing that problem took until the following May when the follow-up test flight completed successfully.

The two subsequent preparatory attempts for a crewed flight, did not. The scheduled July 21 flight was scrubbed after faults were discovered in both the parachute system and wiring harnesses. Which brings us to March, which is when Boeing is confident its Starliner will successfully shuttle a pair of NASA astronauts to the ISS for a weeklong stay. To date, Boeing is estimated to have incurred around $1.5 billion in project cost overruns.

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