Boeing has selected to perform a second uncrewed flight test of the company’s Starliner spacecraft. The test will be a second chance for Boeing to assure the public the spacecraft is safe for astronauts after an anomaly fraught maiden mission.
In a short statement, Boeing announced that it planned to perform a second Orbital Flight Test (OFT) of the Starliner spacecraft.
“We have chosen to refly our Orbital Flight Test to demonstrate the quality of the Starliner system. Flying another uncrewed flight will allow us to complete all flight test objectives and evaluate the performance of the second Starliner vehicle at no cost to the taxpayer.”
The announcement of the second OFT has been expected since late January when Boeing revealed it had set aside $410 million for the mission.
“NASA’s approval is required to proceed with a flight test with astronauts on board. Given this obligation, we are provisioned for another uncrewed mission,” said Boeing’s chief financial officer Greg Smith during a January 29 earnings call.
Despite this statement appearing to imply that the company would only perform a second OFT if NASA mandated it, the decision seems to have ultimately been made by Boeing. In an April 6 press release, NASA revealed that “Boeing has decided to fly a second uncrewed flight test.” The statement went on to state that NASA accepted the proposal and would “work side-by-side with Boeing” to perform the test.
The need for a second OFT mission is as a result of a disastrous maiden flight of the Starliner spacecraft. The mission was launched on December 20, 2019.
Trouble began almost immediately when the spacecraft’s thrusters failed to fire following its deployment. Although Boeing and NASA ground crews were eventually able to fire the thrusters manually, the failure precluded a rendezvous with the International Space Station. This was only the start of Boeing’s woes as the spacecraft struggled with communications difficulties and a fatal error that could have resulted in the destruction of the vehicle during reentry.
Boeing will be eager to approach the second OFT with a clean slate hoping to forget the Starliner’s anomaly fraught maiden mission.