Boeing Starliner Test Delayed

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The Latest In A Long Series Of Delays For The Embattled Boeing Starliner Spacecraft.

It appears NASA will have to wait just a bit longer to see if the Boeing Starliner spacecraft can get off the ground and dock with the International Space Station. Boeing designed the Starliner to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS. However, both the Starliner and its SpaceX counterpart, Crew Dragon, have faced long delays. And the clock is running out. This latest delay for Boeing sets Starliner’s first launch back an additional two days to December 19th.

To be clear, when both the Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon were commissioned, NASA expected them to be flying missions by now. In some cases, both companies are years behind schedule on testing. These delays led NASA administrators to apply a lot of pressure to both companies this year. Boeing’s December 19th launch will send the uncrewed Starliner capsule to dock with the ISS for the first time. The mission comes over half a year after SpaceX accomplished the same feat with Crew Dragon.

Then Crew Dragon Blew Up

It seemed earlier this year that SpaceX was quite a bit ahead in the race to get a working capsule to NASA. Then disaster struck and engineers discovered a major design flaw with Crew Dragon. A faulty valve in the propellent release system spelled doom for the original design, which would have had the capsule land gently under a controlled propulsion system. Now SpaceX bypassed that system and plans to land Crew Dragon with parachutes until a redesign comes along.  

What About Starliner?

The Boeing Starliner hasn’t suffered the kind of catastrophic failures this year that Crew Dragon has, but it has been embattled nonetheless. For one thing, the test that revealed the critical fault in Crew Dragon isn’t even on Boeing’s testing schedule. They did, however, do a successful pad abort test last month. This latest delay is due to a “purge air supply” issue on the Atlas V rocket that’s going to send the capsule into orbit. The Atlas V is built by a joint venture between Boeing and another aerospace giant Lockheed Martin called United Launch Alliance.

The cost of the rocket ride itself is one of the other issues for which Boeing has recently been criticized. We reported last week that Boeing is planning to charge NASA nearly $90 million per seat aboard each mission. We currently pay Russia just over $80 million per seat, and Elon Musk claims SpaceX’s costs will be magnitudes lower.

Still, Boeing soldiers on, and the launch is now set for no earlier than Thursday, December 19th at 6:59 am EST. We’ll definitely be covering it, so stay tuned.

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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