Photo by: NASA/Cory Huston
Boeing has been working hard to fix their systems since their failure to reach the ISS (International Space Station) in December of 2019. Many delays continued to take place as the company worked towards getting their first crew capsule to space certified through NASA to ferry astronauts. April 2nd, 2021 was the latest date we were told as to when Starliner would take flight. But Monday, Steve Stich, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager said Boeings OFT 2(Orbital Flight Test) would be delayed again until after the Russian Soyuz, and SpaceX Dragon crew capsules bring up new astronauts in May.
Stitch went on to talk about how the winter storm Texas recently saw is in part a cause for the delay. When millions lost power, a Boeing facility used for software testing was amongst the masses and lost about a week of time in the testing phase. “We lost about a week in time, and it affected their facility that does software testing,” Stich said. “So we’re in the process of working hand-in-hand with Boeing to figure out when the OFT-2 flight will be.”
This delay along with astronaut crew rotations will force Boeing to wait just a little longer. When the Soyuz capsule delivers two cosmonauts and one astronaut on April 9th, it will take up one of the docking stations until April 17th when it will return the three crew members that have been onboard for awhile. Then SpaceX’s next Dragon capsule with Crew-2 is set to launch on April 20th with astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, Akihiko Hoshide, and Thomas Pesquet, who will remain on board the ISS for roughly six months. Crew-1 which sent astronauts up last November will return to Earth in late April or early May. This means both docking ports that the Starliner capsule is able to use to station at the ISS will be occupied until the crew handover is completed.
Even though the crewed mission will receive priority over the un-crewed test flight NASA is still eager to get Starliner certified for crewed flight as well. They currently have the Soyuz capsule as NASA’s back up for crewed access to the Space Station and when Starliner is good to go it will give them two of their own independent U.S. contracts which can ferry astronauts to orbit. This will further ease NASA’s reliance on the Russians for space travel, but they do not wish to complete part ways from the Russian Space Agency. They wish to continue flying astronauts on Soyuz missions with a no funds exchanged agreement with Roscosmos ( the Russian Space Agency). Under the agreement NASA will also reserve seats for cosmonauts on U.S. spacecraft flying to the Space Station as well. This will provide insurance that Russian and American crews are always onboard the station should any of the three launch vehicles should be grounded or face delays.