Boeing plans to refly its new passenger spacecraft, the CST-100 Starliner, for NASA this fall without a crew on board, three months after the vehicle’s debut launch to space went awry.
"We are committed to the safety of the men and women who design, build and ultimately will fly on the Starliner just as we have on every crewed mission to space. We have chosen to refly our Orbital Flight Test to demonstrate the quality of the Starliner system. Flying another uncrewed flight will allow us to complete all flight test objectives and evaluate the performance of the second Starliner vehicle at no cost to the taxpayer. We will then proceed to the tremendous responsibility and privilege of flying astronauts to the International Space Station," Boeing said.
The Starliner is Boeing’s contribution to NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, an initiative aimed at developing new private spacecraft that can transport NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. In order to ensure the vehicle is safe to carry passengers to the ISS, the company did an uncrewed test launch of the spacecraft on December 20th. However, just after launching to space, a glitch with the Starliner’s clock prevented the vehicle from igniting its engines at the right time, and it got into the wrong orbit. The vehicle didn’t reach the International Space Station as intended, and Boeing had to bring the spacecraft back to Earth early.
A few months after the launch, NASA and Boeing revealed that the Starliner had experienced a second software glitch before landing, too. Ultimately, Starliner landed successfully in New Mexico with parachutes two days after its launch.
NASA and Boeing investigated the issues. The result was 61 corrective actions that Boeing needed to take to address all of the problems with the launch. NASA also initiated multiple reviews of Boeing’s safety culture and organizational processes.
Meanwhile, NASA’s second Commercial Crew provider, SpaceX, seems poised to become the first private company to launch astronauts to the International Space Station. SpaceX's Crew Dragon is scheduled to fly its first crew of two on the vehicle next month.