Boeing’s Starliner Mission Extended Again – Critical System Issues Need More Time for Assessment!

Denver, Colorado – The first astronaut mission of Boeing’s Starliner capsule has faced another extension, this time staying docked with the International Space Station until at least July 2. Originally targeted for a June 26 return date, the extension allows Boeing and NASA more time to address challenges that have arisen with the spacecraft.

The decision to extend the mission was made to thoroughly assess issues such as small helium system leaks and thruster performance observed during rendezvous and docking. Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, emphasized the importance of allowing the data to guide decision-making in managing these challenges.

The current mission, known as Crew Flight Test (CFT), sent NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams to the ISS. Despite challenges with five of its 28 reaction control system thrusters during the chasedown of the ISS, four were eventually restored. Additionally, team members identified five small helium leaks in the propulsion system, with one spotted pre-launch and four after deployment.

Originally scheduled for a week at the ISS, the departure of Starliner was pushed back multiple times to accommodate necessary checks and a NASA spacewalk. The extra time now allows for a more detailed assessment of the helium leaks and RCS thruster issues before the spacecraft returns home.

Stich reassured that the extensions are not a cause for alarm as Starliner continues to perform well in orbit, emphasizing the strategic use of extra time for critical station activities and system upgrades. Certification is underway to enable Starliner to conduct six-month astronaut missions to the ISS for NASA, similar to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule.

With ample supplies in orbit and a relatively open schedule at the station through mid-August, the crew is not under pressure to leave. NASA officials highlighted the value of gaining insight into system upgrades for post-certification missions and ensuring readiness for the astronauts’ return on Starliner.