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Boeing to launch Starliner spacecraft for second go at reaching the ISS

Boeing hopes its second uncrewed test flight for NASA will make it all the way to the space station this time.

The CST-100 Starliner lands back on US soil, airbags full.
NASA/Bill Ingalls

Boeing launched its Starliner spacecraft with no humans on board in December, aiming to reach the International Space Station. The mission didn't go as planned. Due to technical problems, Starliner never made it to the ISS.

On Monday, Boeing announced it will take a second shot at sending an uncrewed Starliner to the station as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. The program aims to launch astronauts from US soil for the first time since the end of the space shuttle era in 2011.

"We have chosen to refly our Orbital Flight Test to demonstrate the quality of the Starliner system," Boeing in a brief statement. "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." 

A joint Boeing and NASA investigation turned up a host of software and communications-link problems with the initial Starliner flight. These issues caused the spacecraft to abort its attempt to reach the ISS. The Starliner capsule returned to Earth intact thanks to the ground crew's efforts to save it. 

Boeing and NASA have not yet revealed a date for the launch. Starliner must pass its uncrewed flight tests before NASA uses it to send astronauts to the ISS. 

SpaceX, also a participant in the Commercial Crew Program, is scheduled to launch a crewed Dragon capsule with two NASA astronauts on board as early as May. Boeing has a little catching up to do.