Starliner’s first flight delayed, crew mission not likely before 2020
Ars Technica » Scientific Method 2019-04-03
Enlarge / Technicians at the Boeing Space Environment Test Facility in El Segundo, California, position Starliner inside the acoustics test chamber. (credit: Boeing)
After several weeks of rumors, NASA has officially announced that the first test flight of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft will slip from April to August. However, it's worth noting that NASA still characterizes that as a "working date" rather than a confirmed launch date.
As part of the announcement, the agency also said that the first crewed test flight of Starliner to the International Space Station—which theoretically could come before the end of 2019, but now seems doubtful—will be of extended duration. "NASA’s assessment of extending the mission was found to be technically achievable without compromising the safety of the crew,” said Phil McAlister, director of the commercial spaceflight division at NASA Headquarters, in a news release. The agency did not say how many months the crew would stay on station.
Extending Starliner's first flight gives NASA more options as it seeks to keep its crew members on the space station. In February, the space agency also began exploring the possibility of buying additional Soyuz rides to the space station through September, 2020, as it waits for Starliner and SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft to begin operational service. Sources have indicated that this may also be one way to funnel more money to Boeing above its fixed price contract value in the commercial crew program, as NASA may in effect purchase these seats as part of an operational mission.