Boeing said it will try again before the end of January to fly its Starliner spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) on an unmanned test trip.
After the first Starliner test flight fizzled and Elon Musk’s SpaceX raced ahead to deliver astronauts to the station this year, the pressure has intensified on Boeing to get its spaceship program back on track. If all goes well with its second uncrewed test, Boeing will load NASA astronauts aboard its CST-100 Starliner for a demonstration flight in mid-2021, the company said Tuesday.
The Starliner would then be ready for its first operational flight ferrying crew to the space station by the end of next year, Boeing said, citing “excellent progress” on work for the second test flight.
Boeing’s first Starliner flight in December was marred by two critical software glitches that curtailed the demonstration to only 48 hours. The craft was unable to dock with the space station and the software problems were severe enough that they could have led to the Starliner’s destruction. Afterward, NASA decided to conduct a broader review of Boeing’s engineering and testing.
Meanwhile, SpaceX, the second company NASA is relying on for its commercial crew program, completed its first roundtrip with astronauts on Aug. 2. NASA is tentatively scheduling Oct. 23 as the date for SpaceX’s first operational mission to fly four crew to the station.
Separately Tuesday, NASA named astronaut Jeanette Epps to the Starliner’s first operational mission. Epps will join Sunita Williams and Josh Cassada for a six-month stay aboard the ISS. The flight will be the first into space for Cassada and Epps.
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