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Boeing Starliner's 1st crewed trip to the ISS delayed again over battery overheating risk

May fly in the summer, with some presumably pretty nervous pilots

Boeing's first mission carrying astronauts to the International Space Station aboard its Starliner capsule, scheduled for April, is now delayed until summer due to the risk of overheating batteries.

NASA is concerned that the Starliner's lithium-ion batteries could overheat while docked to the ISS. Although executives from the space agency agreed the risks were low, they were hesitant to move forward with Boeing's mission to loft two astronauts, Sunita "Suni" Williams and Barry "Butch" Wilmore, into orbit.

Boeing declined to comment on any potential issues with about its battery system. "We are working closely with NASA to identify Starliner Crew Flight Test (CFT) launch opportunities," a spokesperson told The Register in a statement.

Steve Stich, head of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, said the company is now thinking about redesigning its batteries and adding shielding in the event one overheats, according to Reuters.

Stitch said that SpaceX also had to change the battery design of its crewed capsule at one point too. SpaceX, however, has now successfully carried out seven crewed flights to the ISS, while Boeing struggles to get its first crewed launch off the ground. NASA has signed a contract to launch six missions using the Starliner in the future.

Boeing is also planning to revamp a section of its spacecraft containing thrusters used to separate Starliner's main crew module from its service module, before it returns to Earth. NASA has agreed to fork out at least $24.8 million to overhaul the system.

Boeing has made multiple changes to its spacecraft during the last months of testing, including changing the valves on its propulsion system to prevent them from closing up before launch. Software bugs in the flight code also had to be checked, leading to further delays. 

Meanwhile, Kathy Lueders, NASA's Associate Administrator of the Space Operations Mission Directorate, confirmed that the inaugural Starliner mission will not launch until after May.

"We're adjusting the [ISS] schedule including the launch date for our Boeing Crew Flight Test as teams assess readiness and complete verification work. CFT now will launch following Axiom Mission 2 for optimized station operations," she tweeted on Thursday. 

The Axiom Mission 2, the second crew visit to the ISS by the private space biz, must be even more galling for Boeing. Still, looks like it's back to the drawing boards at Boeing. ®

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