Boeing sets a date for its next Starliner test flight

Boeing has announced that the second uncrewed test flight for its CST-100 Starliner commercial crew spacecraft will happen no earlier than the end of March. Boeing's goal is to use its capsule to send astronauts to the ISS and beyond, just as SpaceX is doing with its Crew Dragon capsule. Boeing's second test flight comes after the first test flight for the capsule encountered problems.NASA and Boeing confirmed this week that Orbital Flight Test 2 is scheduled for March 29. The Starliner capsule will be pushed into orbit atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. Boeing will launch its mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Previously, Boeing and NASA had hoped to conduct the second mission by the end of 2020.

A launch this year won't happen. Agency officials announced in November that updates to the spacecraft software was the main reason for the revised launch schedule. NASA commercial crew program manager Steve Stich said during a press conference in November that as Boeing made progress on flight software and tested it, a launch date would be refined.

NASA has also said that Boeing has completed more than 90 percent of the recommended actions from an independent review of the Orbital Flight Test 1 mission. Stich noted that both NASA and Boeing had done a "tremendous amount of work" on the final flight software. In April of this year, Boeing announced the OFT-2 mission would be flown at its own expense.

Problems with OFT-1 prevented the capsule from docking with the ISS. That mission was conducted in December 2019, and one cause of the issue was a miscalibrated timer. The miscalibration led the spacecraft to believe it was in the wrong phase of its mission immediately after launch. Another software issue could have caused the spacecraft service module to collide with the crew capsule after separation.