WASHINGTON — A second unmanned test flight of Boeing’s commercial crew CST-100 Starliner will be delayed by just over a week to replace hardware damaged during the spacecraft’s processing.
NASA and Boeing said in two statements released on February 17 that the launch of the Orbital Flight Test (OFT) 2, previously scheduled for March 25, is now scheduled for no later than April 2. The spacecraft will take off on the Atlas 5 Moving Launch Alliance from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The revised date comes after Boeing recently replaced the avionics units on the vehicle that were damaged by the power surge, which NASA said was caused by «the problem of configuring ground support equipment during final checks» of the spacecraft.
The company is also still working to complete testing of the program on the spacecraft, addressing one of the major issues on the first OFT mission in December 2019. NASA said teams have completed about 95% of the recommendations identified by an independent review of that mission nearly a year ago, which focused largely on Essential on software.
One of the last milestones prior to launch is a «comprehensive mission rehearsal» that includes the same software that will be used on the Starliner spacecraft as well as «high-definition» flying hardware. The lack of a complete mission simulation was one of the reasons software issues, such as incorrectly set mission timing on the spacecraft, were not detected prior to the OFT mission.
«The teamwork between Boeing and NASA in all aspects of flight preparation including final certification, risk analysis and software testing is exceptional,» said Steve Stitch, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Director, in a statement. «Although the unmanned flight test to the International Space Station is a major milestone on the way to the first manned Starliner mission planned for later this year, we will fly when we’re ready.»
«We are fully engaged in the agency review process as a valuable investment of our time to secure confidence in the spacecraft,» added John Vollmer, Vice President and Program Director at Boeing’s Starliner Corporation.
The Boeing Company said in its statement that another factor complicating preparations for the mission was record winter weather in Houston, which led to widespread blackouts. «Despite this, the team remains focused on the safety and quality of the spacecraft and the successful launch no later than April 2,» the company said.
The OFT-2 mission, which includes docking with the International Space Station, will begin what will be an active month on the station. The Soyuz mission is scheduled to launch to the International Space Station on April 10, and it was scheduled to carry three Russian astronauts. However, on February 9 NASA revealed that It is seeking one of the three seats on that astronaut spacecraft In exchange for «in-kind services» instead of buying them.
SpaceX is slated to fly on the next Crew Dragon mission, Crew-2, no later than April 20. This spacecraft will bring a new crew of American, European, and Japanese astronauts to the station, allowing the existing astronauts on the station from the crew — one mission to return home by early May.