We'll have to wait a bit longer to see Boeing's Starliner spacecraft carry astronauts for the first time.
The first crewed test flight of Starliner has been pushed back an additional month, to no earlier than mid-April 2024, NASA officials said in a release on Thursday (Oct. 12). No reason was given for the change. The target date for the first operational flight of the Boeing spaceship has also been delayed, to early 2025 from summer 2024, agency officials added.
NASA and Boeing had previously said that they were eyeing early March 2024 for Starliner's debut astronaut mission, known as Crew Flight Test (CFT). That was just an anticipated spacecraft readiness date, however, not an official launch target.
CFT will send NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams on a shakeout cruise to and from the International Space Station (ISS). The mission has faced a series of delays due to various technical problems, pushing its liftoff back repeatedly.
For example, CFT had been slated to fly this past July, but that plan was scuttled after teams discovered issues with Starliner's wiring and its parachute system.
NASA picked Boeing and SpaceX in September 2014 to provide astronaut flights to and from the ISS, giving each company multibillion-dollar contracts. SpaceX's seventh operational flight to the ISS launched on Aug. 25, while Starliner has launched just twice, neither time with people on board.
Starliner suffered several problems on its first mission, called Orbital Flight Test (OFT), shortly after launch in December 2019 and did not arrive at the ISS as planned. The successor mission, May 2022's OFT-2, made it to the ISS and back to Earth.
NASA's Thursday news release also confirmed the launch target date for SpaceX's Crew-8 mission as mid-February 2024. Crew-8's four crew members have already been named. They are NASA astronauts Matthew Dominick (commander), Michael Barratt (pilot), and Jeanette Epps (mission specialist), and cosmonaut and mission specialist Alexander Grebenkin.
SpaceX's Crew-9 mission would then launch in August 2024, shortly before Crew-8 returns to Earth. A tenth "crew rotation mission" is expected for early 2025, NASA officials said; it could either be SpaceX's Crew-10 mission or Starliner-1, Boeing's first operational crewed flight to the ISS.
Boeing and NASA had been eyeing summer of 2024 for Starliner-1. But that target date has now been pushed back, to allow time to review results from CFT, including "incorporation of anticipated learning, approvals of final certification products and completion of readiness and certification reviews ahead of that [Starliner-1] mission," NASA officials wrote.