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Boeing aims for unmanned Starliner test flight to ISS in first half of 2022

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Boeing needs to complete a successful unmanned mission before it can carry astronauts. (file)

Washington:

Boeing is targeting a test flight of its unmanned CST-100 Starliner capsule in the first half of next year and a possible launch of its crewed spacecraft in late 2022, company officials said Tuesday.

CST-100 was scheduled to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) from Cape Canaveral, Florida on 3 August, but the flight was called off hours before launch due to problems with the launch system valves.

Boeing officials told reporters at a briefing on Tuesday that they are still testing the valves, but that moisture or condensation could cause them to become stuck.

“The source of the moisture in the valve was normal atmospheric moisture,” said Michelle Parker, chief engineer at Boeing Space and Launch.

Boeing was forced to remove the spacecraft from an Atlas V rocket built by the United Launch Alliance and move it to a factory at Kennedy Space Center to troubleshoot the valves.

John Vollmer, vice president and program manager for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program, said the aerospace giant was now looking to conduct an unmanned CST-100 test flight in the “first half of 2022.”

If that flight is successful, “we’ll see CFTs (crew flight tests) by the end of the year,” Vollmer said.

“We like to see six months between flights,” he said.

Boeing built the Starliner under contract with NASA to send astronauts to low Earth orbit after the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.

NASA awarded multi-billion dollar contracts to both Boeing and SpaceX to provide taxi services to their astronauts to the space station and to end American reliance on Russian rockets for travel.

SpaceX’s program has grown rapidly, now launching four crewed missions.

Boeing’s program is lagging behind and the stalled launch of the Starliner was a setback for the company. Boeing needs to complete a successful unmanned mission before it can carry astronauts.

During an initial unmanned test flight in December 2019, the Starliner capsule experienced disturbances with its thrusters. It did not have enough fuel to reach the ISS and had to return to Earth prematurely.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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