Boeing delays 1st Starliner astronaut mission again, targets July 21 liftoff

The Starliner team works to finalize the mate of the crew module and new service module for NASA's Boeing Crew Flight Test that will take NASA astronauts Barry "Butch" Wilmore and Sunita "Suni" Williams to and from the International Space Station.
The Starliner team works to finalize the mate of the crew module and new service module for NASA's Boeing Crew Flight Test that will take NASA astronauts Barry "Butch" Wilmore and Sunita "Suni" Williams to and from the International Space Station. (Image credit: Boeing/John Grant)

The first crewed flight of Boeing's Starliner astronaut taxi has been pushed back several additional months, with liftoff now targeted for July 21 at the earliest.

Last month, Boeing and NASA said that Starliner's astronaut debut, a mission to the International Space Station (ISS) called Crew Flight Test (CFT), was on track to launch in April.

That timeline was pushed back a bit last week, when NASA officials said that CFT will lift off after Ax-2, a private flight to the orbiting lab operated by Houston company Axiom Space that's tentatively targeted for early May.

But a spring liftoff for CFT is now off the table, agency officials announced today (March 29).

"We've deliberated and decided that the best launch attempt is no earlier than July 21 for CFT," Steve Stich, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, said during a press conference today.

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

Stich and others on today's call cited several reasons for the latest delay. There will be considerable traffic at the ISS this spring, for example, with Ax-2 lifting off in May and SpaceX's next robotic cargo mission targeted for June.

CFT's launch site, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, will be busy over the coming months as well. United Launch Alliance (ULA) plans to fly a mission for the U.S. Space Force from Cape Canaveral with an Atlas V rocket this spring, and the first-ever liftoff of the company's new Vulcan Centaur vehicle is targeted for May from the site. (CFT will employ an Atlas V as well.)

NASA also wants a bit more time to analyze data about Starliner's various components, such as its parachute system, before putting astronauts on the vehicle, Stich said. And the agency and Boeing plan to conduct one more ground test of a parachute subsystem — the chute that pulls off Starliner's forward heat shield. That trial is targeted for May, Stich said.

"At this time, there's really no issues or concerns with the parachute system," Stich said. "The parachutes are installed in the vehicle; they're in good shape. It's just a matter of going through all that data and looking at the data and making sure we're really ready to go fly safely."

Boeing Starliner Crew Flight Test commander Barry "Butch" Wilmore (at right) and pilot Suni Williams outside the Armstrong Operations & Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Oct. 18, 2022. (Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

CFT will send NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams to the ISS for a roughly eight-day stay. If all goes well with the test flight, NASA will likely certify Starliner for operational astronaut missions to the orbiting lab.

One private American spacecraft is already performing these crewed taxi missions — SpaceX's Crew Dragon, which earlier this month launched on its sixth contracted astronaut flight to the ISS for NASA.

CFT will mark Starliner's second trip to the ISS. The capsule spent about a week docked to the ISS in May 2022, on an uncrewed mission called Orbital Flight Test 2

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 @Spacedotcom, or on Facebook and Instagram. 

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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.

  • SubSailor
    I know they announced July 21st as the new target, but did they mention a year? Was it 2024 or 2025?
  • Umpleby1
    It is planned for July 21st 2023.
  • Boonskis
    Starliner is kind of a pretentious name. There's a lot of hyperbole out there these days and everyone seems to be okay with it. Mission accomplished.
  • Unclear Engineer
    As far as I know, the only "new" thing about "Starliner" is that it is designed to land on dry land. That will be a first for U.S. space capsules, although the U.S. Space Shuttle did it and even the Russian capsules have always done it. So, Boeing's performance here seems very underwhelming.

    What I am looking forward to is something like the DreamChaser vehicle, that will land on runways, being paired with reuseable vertical boosters such as the SpaceX Falcon, providing a completely reuseable launch and return system that launches from space ports lands at airports.

    Boeing doesn't seem to have any involvement in any of that hoped-for future
  • LeeDoug
    I applaud Boeing’s tenacity through all the stops and starts, and the commitment to keep the astronauts as safe as possible. I look forward to the USA having two options with which to get astronauts to orbit.