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NASA and Boeing postpone Starliner’s first crewed flight test again

Boeing and NASA announced Thursday that new technical issues with the Starliner capsule would delay its first crewed flight test.

After being delayed from April, the first crewed mission flew two NASA astronauts on July 21. In a media briefing, Boeing’s VP of commercial crew, Mark Nappi, said leadership would spend the next week figuring out a plan to make the capsule safe for flight.

Nappi said Boeing engineers found two new Starliner issues: one with the parachute systems and one with the tape that wraps around wire harnesses. He said incorrect load limit data led engineers to discover that some parachute sections had a lower failure load limit than previously thought. Engineers also found the tape flammable.

He said the tape was tested late.

The Starliner’s only mission, an uncrewed flight test a year ago, carried the tape. That mission included the parachute system. Nappi said a more thorough review revealed the issues.

Nappi hinted that a launch this year was possible. “It’s feasible, but I certainly don’t want to commit to any dates or timeframes until we spend the next several days understanding what we need to go do,” he said.

Boeing spent years developing Starliner, a crewed capsule that will join SpaceX’s Dragon capsule in transporting NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. NASA contracted Boeing and SpaceX for a set number of astronaut transportation missions. While SpaceX has nearly completed all of its six contracted missions for the space agency, Boeing has been plagued by seemingly endless technical delays, which the company must bear due to its fixed-cost contract.

“Safety is always our top priority,” Nappi said. Human spaceflight has always been that way. That’s why. We’re disappointed because it delays, but the team is proud that we’re making the right choices.”

He added that Boeing will continue its commercial crew ambitions despite “growing pains” in vehicle development.

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