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NASA, Boeing set new launch date for Starliner do-over mission to the ISS

The first uncrewed test flight didn't work out as planned, so Boeing is gearing up to try again in July.

The Boeing Starliner crew module is getting prepped for the next orbital flight test in 2021.

Boeing

SpaceX and its Crew Dragon spacecraft have been a bright spot in NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which returned astronaut launches to US soil in 2020. Boeing, the other Commercial Crew provider, still needs to prove the safety and functionality of its spacecraft before it sends a NASA crew to the International Space Station. 

On Thursday, Boeing announced a new targeted launch date of July 30, at 11:53 a.m. PT, for the second uncrewed test flight of Boeing's Starliner. The mission is called Orbital Flight Test-2, or OFT-2.

Boeing had previously been looking at August or September for the launch and attributed the delay to working around other space station missions, along with the availability of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and the Eastern Range where the launch will take place. 

"Boeing will be mission-ready in May should another launch opportunity arise," the company said in a statement. The opportunity seems to have popped up now. The launch date had already been pushed back before, but developing spacecraft is challenging, and hurdles and delays are a normal part of the process.

The first major CST-100 Starliner flight test in late 2019 didn't go as planned. The spacecraft failed to reach the ISS, but it did return to Earth safely. An investigation turned up software defects and a communications link problem. Boeing vowed to conduct a second orbital flight test to prove the spacecraft's safety before it carries humans on board.

Boeing has worked to address the problems from the first flight test. "Teams conducted a full software review and several series of tests to verify Starliner's software meets design specifications," said NASA in a statement. Boeing will also conduct a full simulation of the test flight prior to launch.

If OFT-2 is successful, then NASA and Boeing will look to launch an actual crew to the ISS. Boeing is aiming for a short turnaround time between OFT-2 and the Crew Flight Test (CFT). That would put both SpaceX and Boeing in business as providers of ISS flights. That's the ultimate goal of a NASA program that is meant to end the US reliance on Russian spacecraft to ferry astronauts to the space station.

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