Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft could launch on its first manned flight to the International Space Station in April next year, NASA said.
However, that is just a target date so we will have to continue waiting for official confirmation regarding the detailed launch schedule.
Boeing vice president and Starliner manager Mark Nappi said in August that the team was aiming to have the spacecraft ready by March, but at the time did not mention a possible launch date.
“The first manned flight of the Starliner spacecraft, named NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test (CFT), is planned for no later than mid-April,” NASA said in a post on its website on Thursday.
CFT will send NASA astronauts and test pilots Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams on a demonstration flight to confirm the capabilities of the Starliner system, the space agency said.
The spacecraft will be launched atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The crew and spacecraft will spend about eight days on the space station before returning to Earth with a parachute- and airbag-assisted desert landing in the western US.
Boeing had difficulty getting the Starliner to the point of being ready for its first manned flight. The first unmanned test flight was supposed to take place in 2017 but various problems delayed the program.
The capsule finally headed to space in 2019, but the mission ended in disaster when it failed to reach the correct orbit to take it to the ISS. It took three years of work to fix all the problems, and Starliner finally made it to the space station in an uncrewed test flight in 2022.
Officials had hoped to launch the first manned flight in April this year, but problems forced the mission to be postponed until July, before being postponed again.
Given everything that has gone before, don’t be too surprised if Starliner and its crew don’t go into orbit next April.
NASA wants to use Starliner as another vehicle to carry crew to and from the ISS, providing greater flexibility when planning missions. They currently use SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft for astronaut missions that start and end in the US