NASA assessing when Boeing's Starliner could be ready to launch with astronauts

File: The Boeing Starliner spacecraft is lifted at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (NASA/Kim Shiflett)

Boeing continues to troubleshoot a new issue with its Starliner spacecraft before the company tries again to launch two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station

The first attempt to launch NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams in early May ended in a scrub after a faulty liquid oxygen valve on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket required replacing. ULA replaced the valve, and the rocket is in the hangar at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida ready for the next launch attempt.

However, during the rocket repair, Boeing said it began working on an issue with the spacecraft. A small helium leak was detected on the spacecraft's service module. Starliner's propulsion system uses helium.

NASA and Boeing announced two possible launch dates since the launch scrub, including a possible launch on Saturday.  As the launch date approached, officials at Kennedy Space Center confirmed teams are no longer able to launch on Saturday.


NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore, left, and Suni Williams, right,, are seen as they prepare to depart the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building for Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station to board the Boeing CST-100 Starline

Boeing recently said teams needed additional time to assess the leak traced to a flange on a single reaction control system thruster. 

"Boeing teams are working to develop operational procedures to ensure the system retains sufficient performance capability and appropriate redundancy during the flight," NASA wrote in a blog post. "As that work proceeds, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and the International Space Station Program will take the next few days to review the data and procedures to make a final determination before proceeding to flight countdown."

Due to the delay, the astronauts returned to Houston to spend time with their families. If the issue is resolved, they will return to Kennedy Space Center about a week before the next launch date. 

NASA said its working towards opportunities in June for a launch, but those will be reassessed before holding a teleconference on Friday.

Crew Flight Test marks final milestone


United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing's Starliner capsule next to the Vehicle Integration Facility (VIF). [Credit: NASA]

The liftoff will begin the final test for Boeing's Starliner, known as the Crew Flight Test (CFT), to certify the spacecraft to fly NASA astronauts to and from the space station. 

In 2014, NASA awarded contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to fly astronauts to the ISS with commercial spacecraft. SpaceX began flying NASA astronauts to the space station in 2020.


Starliner was set to launch Williams and Wilmore last summer, but Boeing managers revealed new issues with the spacecraft after further examining data from Starliner's second uncrewed orbital flight test in May 2022

When it happens, the astronauts will spend about a week on the International Space Station testing Starliner's systems before returning to Earth. 

A successful CFT will culminate in a soft landing of the Starliner spacecraft in the Southwest desert.