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Boeing’s troubled Starliner just got hit with another delay

Published Feb 18th, 2021 11:30PM EST
starliner delay
Image: NASA/Bill Ingalls

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  • NASA’s Commercial Crew program tapped both SpaceX and Boeing to develop crew-capable spacecraft that were safe and efficient for transporting astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
  • While both companies dealt with delays, SpaceX eventually fulfilled its promise, but Boeing has struggled to even complete a test flight.
  • Boeing’s expected second attempt at an uncrewed test flight to the ISS has now been pushed back yet again.

When NASA formally announced the two companies that would be part of its Commercial Crew Program, Boeing and SpaceX, many in the industry believed that Boeing would be the first to deliver what NASA was looking for. As development on Boeing Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon proceeded, it quickly became clear that SpaceX was in the lead and it wasn’t long before the Crew Dragon completed its uncrewed test flight as well as its first crewed flight. The spacecraft is now part of NASA’s fleet, but Boeing’s Starliner is nowhere to be found.

Starliner has seen a huge number of delays over the course of its development, with the company pushing back key milestones by months and even years. Its first uncrewed test flight ended without the spacecraft ever making it to the space station, and the company blamed a clock glitch for its failure. Now, with NASA expecting the company to redo its uncrewed test mission, Boeing has announced yet another delay.

As SpaceNews reports, Boeing revealed this week that the second test flight attempt which was previously scheduled for March 25th will now have to be delayed until at least April 2nd. While this might seem like a small delay, it’s just the latest symptom of what appears to be a complete inability by Boeing to meet its goals and keep on schedule.

Just consider this for a second: NASA, using taxpayer money, won a $4.2 billion contract to have Starliner completed and certified by NASA by 2017. Certification would mean both an uncrewed test flight and crewed test flight have already been performed and that nothing serious needed to be changed. Here we are, four years after that deadline, and Boeing still hasn’t been able to send its spacecraft to the ISS on an uncrewed test flight, much less a mission with astronauts on board.

Needless to say, this latest delay is just icing on the turd cake, and if Boeing’s recent track record is any indication, it’s hard to even get excited about seeing Starliner in action. I mean, it’s behind schedule by four years, so what’s another two or three?

In any case, NASA has SpaceX’s Crew Dragon to use when it needs to, which is great news for the space agency. We’ll have to wait and see if Boeing manages to actually launch its spacecraft in April or if it has to push things back even more. It might not be a good idea to hold your breath on this one.