NASA Takes Some Time to Decide Boeing Starliner Future

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The Future of the Boeing Starliner Is Up in the Air—Even If the Craft Isn’t

On December 20th, Boeing attempted to do what SpaceX did last spring. The CST-100 Boeing Starliner capsule launched into space headed for the ISS. Or so everyone thought. Unfortunately, the trajectory was off, and the capsule couldn’t dock. Instead, it orbited around the planet for two days before executing a perfect landing in White Sands, NM. So the mission wasn’t a total failure. But it wasn’t a success either. And success is critical for both Boeing and NASA right now.

The Boeing Starliner is designed to ferry astronauts and cargo to and from the International Space Station (ISS). It, like it’s SpaceX counterpart, the Crew Dragon, has been plagued by delays for years. Those delays are costly. NASA currently buys tickets on Russian Soyuz rockets to get our astronauts to the ISS. The price tag? $82 million per seat. Both SpaceX and Boeing promised to have their capsules ready for human flight by early this year. After the mishap with Starliner’s test flight, however, NASA officials aren’t sure what to do next.

A Beleaguered Program

As mentioned above, NASA currently contracts with two companies, SpaceX and Boeing, for the ferry capsules. Both companies have faced delays, but SpaceX’s Crew Dragon has already been to the ISS and back. Boeing has yet to accomplish that task, and they just screwed up their first attempt. All of that is not to mention that Boeing is charging NASA nearly twice as much as SpaceX is for the program. 

NASA’s Response

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine released a statement on Tuesday outlining the status of the program. “NASA is evaluating the data received during the mission to determine if another uncrewed demonstration is required. This decision is not expected for several weeks as teams take the necessary time for this review,” he stated.

“NASA’s approach will be to determine if NASA and Boeing received enough data to validate the system’s overall performance, including launch, on-orbit operations, guidance, navigation and control, docking/undocking to the space station, reentry, and landing,” Bridenstine continued. “Although data from the uncrewed test is important for certification, it may not be the only way that Boeing is able to demonstrate its system’s full capabilities.”

Regardless of Starliner’s status, SpaceX is expected to run its final abort test next Saturday, January 18th, for Crew Dragon. If it passes that test, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will be headed to the ISS soon.

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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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