Boeing begins fueling Starliner capsule ahead of 1st astronaut launch

technicians surround a white space capsule in a large room, with an american flag on one wall
Technicians start fueling up Boeing's Starliner capsule to prepare for its first-ever astronaut mission. Boeing posted this photo on X on March 18, 2024. (Image credit: Boeing via X)

Boeing has started fueling up its Starliner capsule ahead of the vehicle's first-ever astronaut launch.

That mission, called Crew Flight Test (CFT), is currently scheduled to launch in early May atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, on Florida's Atlantic coast. It will send NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore to the International Space Station (ISS) for a roughly 10-day stay.

On Monday (March 18), Boeing announced that it had taken a significant step toward launch — beginning to load propellant into Starliner, a process that will take about two weeks.

Related: Starliner: Boeing's next-generation spaceship for astronauts

The activity is taking place at Boeing's Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, which is next door to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

"Conducting the propellant loading operation is a team made up of specially trained technicians, as well as fluids, propellant and electrical test engineers," Boeing wrote in a brief update on Monday.

"Throughout the operation, test teammates monitor the spacecraft, including sensors and valves, as well as the environment within the C3PF," they added.

In September 2014, NASA awarded Boeing and SpaceX multibillion-dollar contracts via its Commercial Crew Program. Elon Musk's company has already launched eight operational astronaut flights to the ISS for the agency, as well as one crewed test mission, but Starliner has yet to carry people.

Boeing's capsule has launched twice to date, on uncrewed test flights to the orbiting lab. Starliner suffered several problems on the first mission, which launched in December 2019, and failed to meet up with the ISS as planned. But it succeeded on its second attempt, in May 2022.

CFT was supposed to launch last summer but has been pushed back multiple times due to technical issues, chief among them a problem with the suspension lines on Starliner's main parachutes and the fact that much of its wiring was wrapped in flammable tape. But technicians have fixed those problems, and CFT is on track for a liftoff this spring, NASA and Boeing officials say.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.