Not even a week ago, I reported that Starliner's Crew Flight Test was slipping out at least a month, saying:
Space.com is reporting the Boeing's Crew Flight Test of their Starliner Capsule has been bumped out from the planned April launch date, NET May but probably into the summer.
Today, SpaceNews is reporting the flight is NET July 21. There are several reasons for this, but one that was mentioned among the first was review of the parachute system's performance.
The manager of NASA's Commercial Crew program, Steve Stich, said the delay was attributable to the extra time needed to close out the pre-flight review process of Starliner and also due to traffic from other vehicles visiting the space station in June and the first half of July.
"When we look at all the different pieces, most of the work will be complete in April for the flight," Stich said during a teleconference with reporters. "But there's one area that's extending out into the May time frame, and this really has to do with the certification products for the parachute system."
Parachutes? They flew the capsule twice with no issues. In fact, back in the first flight, the parachutes may have been the only thing that worked properly! OK, that's probably an exaggeration, but the software was so bad that they're lucky they got that vehicle back.
On a more serious note, Boeing has conducted more than 20 tests of its parachute system, including dropping the vehicle from different altitudes to test their deployment sequence and how the parachutes perform in different environments to simulate returning from space. The main effort related to the 'chutes is studying the reams of data to make sure that the system is good. There is one additional test on the books:
There is one final test to be completed on the ground, he said, of a parachute subsystem that pulls Starliner's forward heat shield away and sets up deployment of the drogue and then main parachutes. That test is targeted for May.
The other thing pushing the launch schedule out is more mundane. The ISS is small compared to the number of people and groups that want to go there, so resource allocation is always a big deal. The Crew Flight Test will carry two astronauts that will live on the station for a short duration stay, not the five or six months of a regular crew rotation. As such, it requires a docking port to be dedicated to the capsule for its time on the station different from the one the crew rotation uses; currently Crew-6.
While they expect that Starliner could be ready to launch by June, that interferes with a higher priority mission. NASA plans to launch SpaceX's CRS-28 cargo resupply mission in June, which will
tie up one of the lab's docking ports. CRS-28 is bringing
solar arrays to the station. Delays to that would cascade delays to the spacewalks planned to install them. The lack of a docking
port pushed the Starliner flight into the second half of
This will be the third flight on Boeing's Starliner. After the nearly catastrophically bad December 2019 mission, a massive rework effort was begun on the vehicle, at Boeing's expense. That culminated in the May '22 mission. That second try can't be described as faultless, but it has led to being ready to try the Crew Flight Test.
The Crew Flight Test ready to splash down under the three parachutes that are being double-checked.