Boeing has delayed the first spaceflight of its CST-100 Starliner crew capsule — an uncrewed test mission to the International Space Station (ISS) — from next month until August at the earliest, according to Reuters.
The target date for Starliner's first crewed ISS flight has also been pushed back, from August until November, Reuters reported Wednesday (March 20), citing unnamed industry sources. One of these sources said that technical issues weren't the sole factor; scheduling issues at Starliner's launch site, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, also contributed.
Spokespersons for Boeing and NASA declined to comment, but the NASA official said an updated launch schedule will be published next week, Reuters reported.
Boeing is developing Starliner to carry astronauts to and from the ISS, under a $4.2 billion contract the aerospace giant signed with NASA in 2014. SpaceX holds a similar commercial-crew deal, valued at $2.6 billion, to get that company's Crew Dragon capsule up and running.
Crew Dragon already has one spaceflight under its belt: Earlier this month, the SpaceX capsule aced a six-day, uncrewed demonstration mission to the ISS known as Demo-1. SpaceX plans to conduct an in-flight test of Crew Dragon's emergency-escape system soon; if all goes well with that uncrewed launch, Crew Dragon could carry two NASA astronauts to the ISS on the Demo-2 demonstration flight as early as July.
Contracted, operational missions carrying four astronauts will commence sometime after that.
NASA signed the commercial-crew deals with Boeing and SpaceX to bring orbital human spaceflight back to U.S. soil. The nation has been without this capability since July 2011, when NASA retired its space shuttle fleet after 30 years of service.
Ever since then, NASA has depended on Russian Soyuz rockets and spacecraft to ferry U.S. astronauts to and from the ISS. A seat aboard the three-person Soyuz spacecraft currently costs about $80 million.
- Boeing CST-100 Starliner: Next-Generation Spaceship
- Russia's Crewed Soyuz Space Capsule Explained (Infographic)
- SpaceX's Dragon V2 Manned Spacecraft: How It Works (Infographic)
Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.