Science

Yes, Boeing’s Starliner Spacecraft Might Actually Fly Astronauts This Year

in great shape , Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test-2 mission launched on May 19, 2022.

Trevor Mahlman

Five weeks have passed since Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft returned from a largely successful test flight to the International Space Station, and the company continues to review data from the mission with NASA engineers.

No showstopper made yet. In fact, sources say, the Starliner’s relatively clean performance has raised the possibility that the vehicle could make its first crewed flight in December this year.

The mission, called the Crew Flight Test, will likely take two astronauts to the space station. If successful, it will clear the way for long-duration operational missions to the space station in 2023 and give NASA a much-coveted second means of getting astronauts into space.

Two weeks ago, NASA publicly announced that veteran astronauts Butch Wilmore and Sonny Williams would serve as the lead crew for this test flight. NASA also said that a short duration mission with two astronaut test pilots is sufficient to meet all test objectives of the flight test. However, the agency said, the mission could be extended or shortened depending on the station’s staffing needs. For example, NASA said it could also add an astronaut and extend the mission if needed.

Based on NASA’s internal schedule, however, it appears that the agency may opt for a shorter six-day trip. On a revised schedule this week, the Starliner test flight showed a launch date of December 8, followed by a docking at the space station from December 9 to 14.

This date is far from being written in stone. It is subject to adjustments for a number of reasons, including the availability of a docking port on the space station, along with an ongoing review of data from Starliner’s maiden test flight in May. However, with such a date now appearing on the schedule, it indicates a reasonable possibility that Starliner will make a second flight this year.

NASA spokesman Josh Finch said the agency was not ready to formally set a launch date for Boeing’s crewed flight test.

“Boeing is working to build hardware to support the company’s crew flight tests this year,” Finch said. “The Starliner team is in the process of delivering preliminary uncrewed flight test data to NASA and jointly determining further work ahead of crewed flight. Engineering and program reviews are ongoing, based on spacecraft readiness by the end of July.” launch schedule evaluation in the U.S., space station scheduling requirements, and availability of the Eastern Range.”

Following this assessment, Finch said, NASA plans to provide a status update, which will likely include a launch target.

One of the major factors is docking port availability. The space station has two ports with “international docking adapters”, and they are supposed to be shared by SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, Cargo Dragon 2 and Starliner. This summer and fall, NASA currently has three SpaceX mission flights that will use those ports: the CRS-25 and -26 cargo missions and the Crew-5 launch. However, the docking port is currently available from 1 December to 14 January. After this, SpaceX’s CRS-27 cargo mission will need a spare port.

Assuming that there are no further major drops in the launch of SpaceX vehicles, and assuming that the Starliner gets a clean bill of health from its data review, this window is probably when Boeing and NASA are ready for the Starliner’s next flight. Will go

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