NASA has confirmed that while a second uncrewed flight of the Boeing Starliner spacecraft is expected to be launched in 2020, it is unlikely to be followed by a crewed flight until 2021.
During a livesteam to discuss upcoming ISS spacewalks and the progress of the SpaceX Demo-2 mission, NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager Steve Stich revealed that Boeing planned to launch a second uncrewed Starliner test flight before the end of the year.
“In terms of Boeing right now, they’re targeting for a launch at the end of this year,” said Stich.
Boeing had initially been expected to launch a single uncrewed test flight before launching its maiden crewed Starliner flight. However, after a disastrous uncrewed test flight in December 2019, the decision was made to launch a second uncrewed test flight to validate mission elements that had to be abandoned during the first.
According to Stich, the Starliner vehicle has undergone several changes following its first uncrewed test flight. These changes and the testing needed to validate these changes are the primary factors delaying the launch.
“[Boeing] made a lot of changes to the vehicle for the second OFT flight,” said Stich. “And updating the software is really the pacing item and testing that is required for that.”
With SpaceX set to launch its first operational Crew Dragon flight (Crew-1) before the end of the year, the delay to the development of the Starliner vehicle will put Boeing well behind the competition. However, NASA is likely to prefer having the redundancy of being able to book flights aboard two unique vehicles ensuring Boeing’s future with the Commercial Crew program is all but guaranteed for now.