Another day, another news story that makes it seem like NASA is never actually going to send astronauts back into space. The administration has been having a heck of a time getting its commercial partners to stay on track, with both SpaceX and Boeing facing countless delays in the building of the spacecraft that will eventually ferry NASA astronauts into the heavens. Now, Boeing is announcing yet another setback.
As the Verge reports, a recent briefing with reporters confirmed what many already suspected: Boeing’s recent engine test which ended with a propellant leak has prompted the company to push back its timeline for its first official test flight.
According to the company, the first unmanned test flight of the spacecraft is now expected to take place as late as 2019 after originally being planned for this month. The propellant leak during the engine tests was significant because the system is supposed to provide power to the Starliner’s abort systems. Those systems push the crew pod out of the way in the event of a catastrophic failure, so it’s obviously an incredibly important piece of the puzzle.
Boeing previously stated that it was working with NASA to hammer out any issues with the spacecraft, and that it didn’t believe a significant redesign was needed to fix the leak issue. Still, it’s yet another setback for a program that has seen more than its fair share.
Many presumed that Boeing would easily beat SpaceX to the test launch phase of its program, but now it’s unclear which company will be first to launch its spacecraft. SpaceX’s Dragon capsule has seen delays of its own, and both companies are well behind schedule.
Boeing, for its part, says it doesn’t care how SpaceX is doing and doesn’t see itself as being in a “race” at all. “I really have no visibility into SpaceX progress or the fidelity of the SpaceX schedule,” John Mulholland, program manager on the Starliner project, told reporters. “Our entire focus is… to make sure we do everything we can to ensure a safe vehicle and meeting the schedule parameters that I’ve laid out.”