Boeing's Starliner spacecraft continues to have difficulty getting to the International Space Station, with its uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 to ISS now being pushed back to next year. The test is part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which involves the space agency working with private companies like Boeing and SpaceX to ferry astronauts to the station.
NASA said Friday that the team behind OFT-2 is "working toward launch opportunities in the first half of 2022." Following a scrubbed launch in August, the company announced. The first major Starliner flight test went wrong in December, with the uncrewed spacecraft launching, but failing to reach the ISS due to a timing issue and failing. It did however, safely return to Earth.
The problem with OGT-2, for example, has to do with an "oxidizer isolation valve problem on the Starliner service module propulsion system," NASA stated in a blog post yesterday.
"This is a complex issue, involving hazardous materials and intricate parts of the spaceship that aren't easily accessible." Steve Stich, NASA's chief of the Commercial Crew Program at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, stated in the post that "it has taken a methodical approach and sound engineering to effectively examine."
In addition to achieving NASA's goal of "safe, reliable, and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit," the Commercial Crew Program also aligns with the space agency' s Artemis and Moon to Mars goals. Artemis calls for putting the first woman and the next man on the moon sometime soon, and eventually setting up sustainable exploration there. Knowledge gained from Artemis will be used in preparation for astronauts to visit the red planet.
SpaceX and its Crew Dragon spaceship have had a lot more success than Boeing when it comes to the Commercial Crew Program so far. After some delays, the Elon Musk-founded business completed its Demo-1 uncrewed test mission in 2019 and has since flown astronauts to the ISS several times. Earlier this week, NASA said it was reassigning a pair of astronauts from Boeing missions to an upcoming SpaceX mission. SpaceX will provide the human landing system for the Artemis program, according to NASA in April.
SpaceX has a space-tourism component as well. In June, the firm announced a commitment to send space travelers to the ISS beginning next year (at 'a reported $55 million price tag per seat). SpaceX took a step in that direction last month when its Inspiration4 mission sent dozens of private individuals orbiting around the Earth.
It's unclear when Boeing' s Orbital Flight Test-2 will be launched.
NASA, Boeing, United Launch Alliance, and the Eastern Range are considering possible launch dates for OFT-2, according to NASA's post. "The team is currently pursuing opportunities in the first half of 2022, depending on hardware readiness, the rocket manifest, and space station availability," said the team.