Boeing has made the decision to conduct a second Orbital Test Flight following the troubles it experienced late last year with the initial test. The company announced its decision on Monday, stating that it will conduct a second flight at zero cost to taxpayers, doing so to prove the safety of its system. The second flight will follow its first Orbital Test Flight in December 2019, which experienced a glitch that caused the capsule to enter the wrong orbit.
Boeing is one of two private space companies working under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, an initiative to launch American astronauts from American soil.
The program, though it has experienced repeated delays, has hit a number of milestones in past months. Boeing’s unmanned CST-100 Starliner capsule launch to the International Space Station in December 2019 was supposed to be one of those milestones.
The Orbital Test Flight didn’t go as intended, however, after an issue with the capsule’s timing system caused it to get pulled in the wrong orbit. Boeing was able to safely land the capsule after a couple of days, triggering an extensive NASA investigation that looked into all of the potential issues leading up to the technical problem.
This Orbital Test Flight had been intended to demonstrate that Boeing’s capsule could safely carry astronauts to the ISS (and, in the future, to the Gateway). During the subsequent investigation, it was never made clear whether NASA would require Boeing to conduct a second Orbital Test Flight to prove its systems, but the company itself has returned with an answer.
In its brief statement on Monday, Boeing said:
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 previously put aside $410 million in the event that a second Orbital Test Flight would take place; the company didn’t state when it plans to conduct this mission.