Boeing’s Starliner astronaut taxi remains on track to make its crewed debut just six weeks or so from now.
NASA and Boeing have been gearing up to launch Crew Flight Test (CFT), Starliner’s first-ever astronaut mission, in mid-April. Recent work on the capsule and its various systems has kept that target date firmly in the crosshairs, NASA announced last week.
“Teams have made significant progress in resolving technical issues identified during the agency’s flight certification process,” agency officials wrote in a Jan. 24 blog post.
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Those technical issues have delayed CFT’s liftoff considerably, from July 2023 to this spring.
There were two main problems, both of which posed potential safety risks: Components known as “soft links” on the suspension lines of Starliner’s main parachutes couldn’t handle as much load as engineers had thought, and much of the wiring on the capsule was wrapped in flammable P213 tape.
So the Starliner team modified the parachute system. The revamped version showed its stuff high above the Arizona desert during a drop test earlier this month, NASA’s blog post noted. In addition, teams have finished removing the P213 tape where it’s feasible to do so.
“Boeing removed more than 17 pounds, or roughly 4,300 feet, of the material from the Starliner crew module,” agency officials wrote in the blog post.
“For areas in which removal of the tape carried an increased risk to Starliner hardware, Boeing applied tested remediation techniques such as overwrapping the P213 tape with another non-flammable, chafe-resistant tape, and installing fire breaks on wire harnesses,” they added.
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CFT will send NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams to the International Space Station (ISS) for a roughly 10-day day. Starliner will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
CFT will be the third spaceflight for Starliner. The capsule failed to meet up with the orbiting lab as planned during an uncrewed test mission in December 2019, then succeeded during a second try in May 2022.
In September 2014, NASA awarded both Boeing and SpaceX contracts to carry astronauts to and from the ISS. SpaceX has already launched seven operational crewed missions for the agency with its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule and is gearing up to send its eighth toward the ISS next month.