Boeing has decided to delay the launch of the Starliner spacecraft to address recently discovered issues. The company identified two problems with the spacecraft before Memorial Day weekend. The Starliner’s debut crewed launch has been indefinitely postponed, and no new launch date has been announced. A safety issue with the spacecraft’s parachute system has caused the abrupt delay.
Boeing has recommended reevaluating the launch window to ensure the safe launch, docking, and return of the astronauts. In 2014, NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX to develop crew transport systems for space travel. SpaceX has completed multiple crewed flights, while Boeing has only conducted two uncrewed test flights. The discovered issues involve weak “soft links” in the parachute system and flammable tape protecting wiring harnesses.
The weak links could lead to failure if one parachute fails, exerting extra strain on the remaining two parachutes. The flammable tape poses a risk under certain flight conditions. A NASA safety panel chair had previously urged caution and an independent review of Starliner’s technical issues.
The date for the Crew Flight Test is now uncertain, but a launch in 2023 is considered feasible. Boeing will further investigate the issues and work on resolving them. Valve problems have been ongoing challenges for the Starliner spacecraft.
The new problems may cause a significant delay in the test flight and raise concerns about Boeing’s safety culture. NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel has suggested bringing in independent experts to assess Starliner’s viability. The safety issues discovered late in the process have raised questions about the detection and handling of these problems.
The Commercial Crew program is funded through a fixed-price contract, with Boeing receiving a $4.2 billion award. Boeing has already faced significant delays and incurred $900 million in charges related to the Starliner program. Questions have been raised about Boeing’s commitment to the program and the financial implications of not flying missions for NASA.
Boeing officials have not engaged in serious discussions about pulling out of the commercial crew program. Boeing has decided to delay the launch of the Starliner spacecraft for now to address recently discovered issues.