Boeing Delays ‘Space Taxi’ Program Yet Again, Starliner’s First Crewed Flight Now Scheduled For Mid-2019

A mockup of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.
David C. Bowman / NASA via AP Images

Boeing has pushed back the launch test of its astronaut capsule for another six months, according to CNBC.

Although the first crewed flight of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft was supposed to take place either at the end of 2018 or early next year, Boeing won’t be ready to fly the first passengers on its state-of-the-art “space taxi” until mid-2019.

The announcement came yesterday from Boeing Vice President John Mulholland, who discussed the issue during a press call. The new flight schedule features delays on three major flight tests — the launch abort test, the first unmanned test flight, and the first crewed launch.

The first two on the list were initially slated for this summer, but a technical failure experienced during a recent test forced Boeing to revise the entire schedule until that problem is fixed.

“The resulting schedule that we have will support an uncrewed flight test in late 2018 or early 2019,” said Mulholland, who manages the Starliner program for Boeing.

As the Inquisitr previously reported, the company conducted a static test of its launch abort system in late June and uncovered a toxic hypergolic propellant leak, likely caused by hydrazine valves in the spacecraft’s propulsion system.

Starliner’s launch abort system, designed to eject the crew pod a safe distance from the rocket in case of an emergency, relies on four engines developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne.

Each of these engines is fitted with two hydrazine valves and has the capacity to generate 40,000 pounds-force of thrust in order to propel the spacecraft away from harm. According to Geekwire, Boeing has traced back the issue with June’s test to four of these valves, which failed to seal properly due to a problem with their springs.

“We have a dedicated team of both ourselves and the contractor working diligently on those corrective actions,” said Mulholland.

Since June’s test was designed to prepare the Starliner spacecraft for the launch abort test later this summer, that procedure will have to wait a while longer until it can be rescheduled.

Meanwhile, Boeing plans to proceed with the unmanned flight test of one of its Starliners, known as Spacecraft 3, ahead of the launch abort test. The uncrewed capsule will be launched to the International Space Station (ISS) atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket in late 2018 or early 2019 — followed by a launch abort test with another unmanned Starliner vehicle, Spacecraft 1, sometime during next year’s first few months.

If this second test is successful, Boeing will launch Spacecraft 2 along with its first passengers toward the middle of 2019.

These unexpected delays could mean that Boeing might not get certification for its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft until February 2020, states The Verge, citing a series of reports from the Government Accountability Office.

The company is racing to finish developing its “space taxi” so that it can ferry astronauts to the ISS for NASA, whose contract with Russia to use Soyuz capsules for these flights ends in November 2019.

While the Starliner was originally set to be ready for launch in 2017, the program has suffered a number of setbacks, the most recent occurring in late June.

At the same time, rival company SpaceX is still on track for the August launch of DM-1, the unmanned demonstration mission of its Crew Dragon capsule, note the sources.

According to Investor’s Business Daily, it looks like Elon Musk’s company might beat Boeing to the punch and be the first to launch its astronaut-ferrying vehicle to the ISS. DM-2, Crew Dragon’s first manned demonstration flight, is still currently scheduled for December 2018, as reported by the Inquisitr.