Boeing abandons plans for crewed Starliner flight in 2023
The calamity capsule won't be ready to fly until March 2024, and even then a launch date hasn't been ironed out
Boeing has thrown in the towel on trying to launch Starliner to the International Space Station this year, and is now targeting the first half of 2024 for the calamity capsule's first crewed flight.
This latest delay is due to continued fallout from issues identified in June, namely the flammability risk of some of the tape used to protect wires on Starliner from chafing as well as issues with the parachute system. During a press conference yesterday, NASA and Boeing said tape removal is ongoing, and the redesigned parachute system wouldn't be ready until December.
A parachute drop test will be performed late in the year, Boeing officials said at the press conference. If that all goes according to plan (a big IF given Starliner's performance to date) then the craft should be ready for flight in March 2024, with a launch date some time in the first half of the year that is yet to be determined, a Boeing spokesperson told The Register.
"We expect the spacecraft to be ready in March [and] we are working with NASA currently to secure a launch date during the first half of next year," Deborah VanNierop, Boeing senior media relations manager, told us.
According to Boeing Starliner program manager Mark Nappi, only half of the flammable tape has been removed, and in some areas where it can't be pulled off it'll have to be covered in a protective coating.
As for parachutes, the problem identified previously pertains to linkage points where the chutes connect to Starliner. Those points are being redesigned after tests resulted in broken link points, but the new link connectors still need to be incorporated into an upgraded parachute design.
Nappi told reporters that Boeing has "a pretty good schedule laid out" to get a crewed Starliner mission to the ISS this coming March. Of course, "there's always the mystery of something else that can pop up," Nappi said, ensuring Boeing has an excuse if March 2024 comes and goes without NASA astronauts Sunita "Suni" Williams and Barry "Butch" Wilmore making it to the ISS aboard Starliner as currently planned.
Don't hold your breath
Starliner has had a multitude of problems over its more than decade of development and four years of flight testing, during which there has only been two launches, one of which was largely a disaster.
Starliner's first unmanned flight to the ISS saw a timing issue drain it of all its fuel before it could dock, resulting in the craft making an early return to Earth. A second uncrewed flight to the ISS was successfully completed in May 2022, but not without delays to fix sticky valves that grounded the craft in 2021.
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Starliner has been an expensive project for Boeing, racking up nearly $1 billion in losses as of Q3 of last year. During its Q2 2023 earnings report late last month, Boeing said it accrued an additional $257 million (£203m) in losses thanks to Starliner, which the company told us brings its total losses on the project to $1.4 billion.
"On Starliner, we're in lockstep with our customer," Boeing CEO David Calhoun said during the latest quarterly earnings call. "We've prioritized safety and we're taking whatever time is required. We're confident in that team and committed to getting it right."
SpaceX, meanwhile, is prepping for its seventh launch of a new crew to the ISS, currently scheduled for later this month. ®