NASA’s Starliner spacecraft, developed by Boeing, is set to conduct its first crewed test flight in mid-April 2024, according to an announcement by NASA. The mission, called Crew Flight Test (CFT), will see test pilots Butch Wilmore and Suni William being transported to the International Space Station (ISS) and back. The launch will take place at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, using a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
The Starliner will embark on an eight-day trip to evaluate its capabilities during the test flight. This comes after Boeing and SpaceX were contracted by NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in 2014 to build spacecraft for transportation to and from the ISS. While SpaceX has successfully launched astronauts into space and is preparing for its eighth mission in February 2023, Boeing’s Starliner has faced significant delays and financial losses for the company.
Originally, Boeing announced that the Starliner would be ready by March 2024. However, due to concerns over ISS traffic and range availability, NASA has now determined that the launch for the Crew Flight Test will be no earlier than April 2024. Moreover, NASA and Boeing engineers have identified certain issues that need to be addressed before the launch can proceed smoothly.
One concern pertains to flammable tape on the spacecraft, which has yet to be fully removed. Engineers will need to cover the remaining tape with a different material to ensure safety during the flight. Additionally, the parachute system of the Starliner had to be redesigned after it broke apart during tests. Faulty thrusters and the risk of batteries overheating have also posed challenges for Boeing.
As more information becomes available, NASA will provide updates on the readiness of the Crew Flight Test. This long-awaited milestone for Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft will be a crucial step towards fulfilling its role in transporting astronauts to and from the ISS, alongside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.
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