It appears that Boeing won’t launch its new passenger spacecraft until next year. While Boeing had originally planned to test the Starliner later this year, the aerospace manufacturing giant now says the test flight will occur in 2019.
Starliner, of course, is a bold project that involves developing a passenger spacecraft under NASA’s Commercial Crew program. In recent years, NASA has expressed interest in commercial, privatized launches to the International Space Station (ISS). Rather than using its own rockets and technology to send astronauts to the ISS, for example, NASA wants to outsource this task to a private company, such as Boeing.
Boeing has accepted the challenge by developing the Starliner spacecraft. Once complete, the Starliner is expected to hold four astronauts. Perhaps the most notable feature of the Starliner, though, is its reusable design. Boeing says the passenger spacecraft will featured an advanced weldless design that protects it against damage during reentry. Assuming all goes as planned, the Starliner can be reused for up to 10 launches with only a six-month turnaround between launches. Furthermore, Boeing says the Starliner features wireless internet connectivity as well as touchscreen tablets that astronauts can use while aboard the passenger spacecraft.
The Starliner doesn’t have a rocket propulsion system, however. Instead, it will be launched atop a rocket manufactured by the United Launch Alliance. The purpose of the Starliner is to fly low-Earth orbit missions, with a focus on sending astronauts to the ISS. Getting astronauts to the ISS is one of the biggest challenges faced by NASA. The government-sponsored space agency currently works with a limited budget and equally limited amount of resources. By outsourcing this task to a private company, NASA could save a substantial amount of money (and time), allowing it to quickly shuttle astronauts to the ISS.
“The Starliner was designed to accommodate seven passengers, or a mix of crew and cargo, for missions to low-Earth orbit. For NASA service missions to the International Space Station, it will carry up to four NASA-sponsored crew members and time-critical scientific research,” wrote Boeing on its website.
Boeing had originally planned to perform an unmanned test launch of the Starliner in August and a manned test flight just a few months later. Due to setbacks, though, Boeing now says the test flights will likely occur sometime in the middle of 2019. Of course, this is still a rough projection, and Boeing may still further change the launch dates of the Starliner.