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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: © 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

Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Instagram.

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