Boeing and NASA Push Starliner Test Launch to 2022

Boeing might have to temporarily rename the Starliner to the Factoryliner. NASA announced that the spacecraft won’t have a chance to launch until sometime in 2022 because the investigation into an issue that delayed the Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission in August is ongoing.

OFT-2 is an uncrewed mission that will launch Starliner to the International Space Station (ISS) using the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The mission was set for Aug. 3, but it was delayed because of an issue with Starliner’s propulsion system, and the spacecraft was returned to the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility on Aug. 13 to investigate the problem.

That investigation has continued in the months since the missed launch. NASA said in a blog post that “Boeing has identified a most probable cause related to oxidizer and moisture interactions, and although some verification work remains underway, our confidence is high enough that we are commencing corrective and preventive actions” to enable future launches.

It also said “additional spacecraft and component testing will be conducted in the coming weeks to further explore contributing factors and necessary system remediation before flight,” however, and Starliner won’t be able to launch right away even if those tests go well. NASA, Boeing, United Launch Alliance, and the Eastern Range still have to determine a new launch window.

“The team currently is working toward opportunities in the first half of 2022,” NASA said, “pending hardware readiness, the rocket manifest, and space station availability.” That means the OFT-2’s delay from the initial Aug. 3 launch date could be anywhere between 5 and 10 months—and that’s assuming everything goes according to plan moving forward.

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It wouldn’t be the first time. Starliner was launched as part of the original Orbital Flight Test in December 2019, but noted that it “suffered multiple glitches, got stranded in the wrong orbit for a meetup with the station, and landed after circling Earth solo for three days,” so the mission wasn’t successful. The followup mission isn’t exactly off to a good start.

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