Boeing's first astronaut mission for NASA has been delayed again.
The aerospace giant now plans to launch the first crewed flight of its Starliner capsule, a two-astronaut test flight to the International Space Station (ISS), no earlier than April 2023, two months later than the previous target.
"The date adjustment deconflicts visiting spacecraft traffic at the space station as NASA and Boeing work together to achieve flight readiness," NASA officials wrote in an update on Thursday (Nov. 3).
Boeing had previously eyed December 2022 for the liftoff of its first crewed mission, which is known as Crew Flight Test (CFT). But in late August, that target was pushed back to February 2023 to allow more time to address issues identified during the capsule's first trip to the ISS.
That mission, the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test 2 (OFT-2), occurred in May. As the name suggests, it was Starliner's second crack at an uncrewed test flight to the ISS. During the first attempt, in December 2019, Starliner suffered a variety of software problems and got stuck in the wrong orbit for a rendezvous with the orbiting lab.
OFT-2 was successful, but it didn't go perfectly smoothly. Starliner suffered some minor anomalies, such as problems with several of its thrusters, that NASA and Boeing are still studying in the leadup to CFT's launch.
"Starliner and United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket hardware remain on track for readiness in early 2023," NASA officials wrote in the update. "The joint team continues to close out the OFT-2 anomalies and partner closely together to identify forward work and ensure all requirements for crewed flight are met."
The crewmembers for CFT are NASA astronauts Barry "Butch" Wilmore and Suni Williams. The mission is expected to last about two weeks — more than twice as long as the six-day OFT-2. If all goes well with the coming flight, Starliner will likely be certified for operational missions, which Boeing will start flying under a contract it signed with NASA in 2014.
SpaceX holds a similar NASA deal and is already flying operational crewed missions to the ISS with its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule. Elon Musk's company launched the fifth of those contracted flights, the Crew-5 mission, on Oct. 5.
SpaceX and NASA are targeting mid-February 2023 for the launch of the next one, Crew-6. That liftoff is apparently part of the ISS traffic issue that the CFT launch slip will help resolve.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.
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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com 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.