Boeing confirms that it will not conduct an unmanned test flight with the Starliner to the ISS this month. This flight should have taken place in April, following the unmanned test flight that SpaceX performed last month with the alternative Crew Dragon capsule.
Reports came last month that Boeing would not make it to April’s schedule, and the US aerospace company has now confirmed this to News 6. This first, official, unmanned test flight to the ISS has been postponed to sometime in August “to avoid unnecessary schedule pressure,” Boeing said.
Boeing said in an email that the team working on the Starliner capsule has recently reached some “major, major test milestones” leading up to the first unmanned flight, but for a launch this month, the day will be too short. The first manned test flight is yet to take place this year, the company reports.
With the postponement until August, Boeing will probably also create extra space for testing the abort engines. These four liquid fuel engines are part of the critical launch escape system, which should ensure that the space capsule can quickly launch itself away from the rocket in the event of a problematic launch to bring the crew to safety. This test must take place before the launch in August.
The company also said the postponement is intended not to hinder an “important launch for national security.” This concerns the launch schedule for Cape Canaveral, where an Atlas 5 rocket will launch the US Air Force’s fifth Advanced Extremely High Frequency communications satellite in June.
Like SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, the Starliner is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew program. This program aims to no longer depend on Russia for reaching the ISS. SpaceX conducted a successful test flight to the space station a month ago, but this too was still an unmanned test flight. The first manned Crew Dragon flight has yet to follow and in view of the postponement at the Starliner, it is obvious that the US will remain dependent on the Russian Soyuz for transporting astronauts to the ISS.