Boeing to test an unmanned Starliner capsule in early 2022, crew launch could be later in the year

Boeing is targeting a test flight of its unmanned CST-100 Starliner capsule in the first half of next year and a possible launch of its manned spacecraft in late 2022, company officials said.

The CST-100 was scheduled to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on August 3, but the flight was interrupted a few hours before launch due to problems with valves in the propulsion system.

Boeing officials told reporters at a press briefing on Tuesday that they are still testing the valves, but they may be stuck due to moisture or condensation.

Boeing built the Starliner under a contract with NASA to carry astronauts into low Earth orbit after the space shuttle program ended in 2011. Image Credit: NASA/Boeing

“Moisture in the normal environment may have been the source of this moisture in the valves,” said Michael Parker, Boeing Space & Launch chief engineer.

Boeing had to remove the spacecraft from an Atlas V rocket built by the United Launch Alliance and move it to a factory at Kennedy Space Center to troubleshoot the valves.

John Vollmer, vice president and program manager for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program, said the space giant is now looking to complete a CST-100 unmanned test flight in “the first half of 2022.”

If this flight is successful, Vollmer said, “we will consider a manned flight test (CFT) perhaps by the end of the year.”

“We would like to see six months between flights,” he said.

Boeing built the Starliner under a contract with NASA to carry astronauts into low Earth orbit after the space shuttle program ended in 2011.

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NASA has awarded multibillion-dollar contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to provide taxi services to their astronauts to the space station and end the United States’ dependence on Russian rockets for flight.

SpaceX has moved even faster, now performing four manned missions.

Boeing’s program is late, and the failed Starliner launch was a setback for the company. Boeing must successfully complete a drone mission before it can transport the astronauts.

During its first unmanned test flight in December 2019, the Starliner capsule had problems with its thrusters. He did not have enough fuel to reach the International Space Station and had to return to Earth prematurely.

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