NASA and Boeing have announced that the next test flight of the troubled Starliner capsule could take place as early as December this year. The Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) will be uncrewed and will be the next phase of testing for the Starliner, which is intended to eventually ferry astronauts between Earth and the International Space Station (ISS)
NASA says that the flight will go ahead at the end of this year “pending hardware readiness, flight software qualification, and launch vehicle and space station manifest priorities.” The test flight will see the Starliner launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, with the aim to reach the ISS.
Once OFT-2 has gone ahead, if everything goes as planned, the first crewed test flight of the Starliner could take place in June 2021, followed by the first post-certification mission in December 2021. NASA recently announced that astronaut Jeanette Epps will join the first operational flight of the Starliner.
The first orbital test flight of the Starliner took place in December last year and ended in failure when the craft did not reach the International Space Station (ISS) and had to stay in orbit for some time before returning to Earth. That turned out to be due to a problem with the timing, in which the spacecraft’s autonomous systems received the wrong time information, leading to the craft entering the wrong orbit and forcing engineers to use up fuel to correct, meaning there was not enough fuel left to reach the ISS.
This turned out to be just the beginning of the craft’s problems, as it was later revealed that there was a second problem with the separation process during deorbit, which could have lead to the destruction of the capsule. Boeing acknowledged that there had been “gaps” in its testing which allowed the problems to slip through.