NASA says Boeing's next Starliner test flight won't launch until 2021

The Boeing Starliner space capsule for the Orbital Flight Test 2 test flight gets its heat shield in this still from a Boeing video released on Oct. 14, 2020.
The Boeing Starliner space capsule for the Orbital Flight Test 2 test flight gets its heat shield in this still from a Boeing video released on Oct. 14, 2020. (Image credit: Boeing)

Boeing's next test flight of its CST-100 Starliner commercial crew capsule for NASA won't launch until early 2021 due to ongoing software checks, a NASA official said Tuesday (Nov. 10).

The uncrewed mission, called Orbital Flight Test 2, was targeted to launch by the end of this year after Boeing's initial test flight failed to reach the International Space Station in December 2019. But the critical test won't lift off until sometime in the first quarter of 2021, according to Steve Stich, NASA's Commercial Crew Program manager at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

"The pacing item really is getting the software ready to go," Stitch told reporters in a briefing Tuesday focused on the next NASA astronaut launch by Boeing rival SpaceX. (That upcoming mission, called Crew-1, is set to launch Nov. 14 and will be SpaceX's first operational commercial flight for NASA.)

Live updates: SpaceX's Crew-1 astronaut launch for NASA

Boeing's first Starliner mission, Orbital Test Flight 1, launched into space on an Atlas V rocket last year but failed to reach its intended orbit due to software errors and a communications dropout during the flight. Starliner landed just two days later without reaching the station. An independent review team identified 80 corrective actions for Boeing to implement before its next attempt.

Stich said NASA has been working "hand-in-hand" with Boeing on the upcoming mission, but work still remains to refine Starliner's flight control software.  

"The earliest we would go fly that flight would be the first quarter of next calendar year," Stich said of Boeing's next Starliner test. "And then, as they continue to make progress on the flight software and the testing of that software, we'll be able to refine, refine that date a little bit."

Related: Boeing's 1st Starliner flight test in photos

Boeing and SpaceX both hold multibillion-dollar contracts with NASA to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Boeing's is worth $4.2 billion while SpaceX's is for $2.6 billion. 

SpaceX launched its first crewed mission for NASA, called Demo-2, in May following a successful uncrewed test flight to the station in March 2019. Boeing had hoped to launch its first crewed mission, called Crewed Flight Test 1, by mid-2020, but it's been delayed due to the need for a second uncrewed test flight.

Three NASA astronauts are training to launch on Boeing's first crewed Starliner test flight. The crew includes Mike Fincke, Nicole Mann and Barry "Butch" Wilmore. Wilmore was assigned to the flight in October after Boeing's commander for the mission, former NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson, stepped down for personal reasons

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.