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Sunita Williams' Piloted Starliner's Debut Crew Launch To Space Pushed To June

The Starliner spacecraft will be catapulted into space on a Atlas 5 rocket.

Washington DC:

US space agency NASA on Thursday announced that the first crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, piloted by Indian-origin Sunita Williams to the International Space Station (ISS), is now being targeted for June 1.

Mission managers from NASA, Boeing, and ULA (United Launch Alliance) continue to evaluate a path forward toward launching the Boeing Crew Flight Test (CFT) to the International Space Station (ISS), the space agency said in a statement.

The teams are now working towards a launch opportunity at 12:25 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 1, with additional opportunities on June 2, June 5, and June 6.

A helium leak on the Starliner’s service module had delayed the spacecraft’s first mission to space carrying humans, which was initially planned for May 7 but was pushed back with successive delays.

Boeing’s Staliner spacecraft is designed to take Sunita ‘Suni’ Williams and fellow NASA astronaut Barry ‘Butch’ Wilmore to the international Space Station as part of a final test before the US space agency can certify the Starliner for routine missions to and from the ISS.

The Starliner spacecraft will be catapulted into space on a Atlas 5 rocket of the rocket company United Launch Alliance (ULA) from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

The duo will remain docked at the orbiting laboratory for about two weeks to evaluate the new spacecraft and its systems before returning to Earth in the Western United States.

“There has been a great deal of exceptional analysis and testing over the last two weeks by the joint NASA, Boeing, and ULA teams to replace the Centaur Self Regulating Valve and troubleshoot the Starliner Service Module helium manifold leak,” said Steve Stich, manager of the NASA Commercial Crew Program.

“It has been important that we take our time to understand all the complexities of each issue including the redundant capabilities of the Starliner propulsion system and any implications to our Interim Human Rating Certification, he said in a statement issued by the US space agency.

“We will launch Butch and Suni on this test mission after the entire community has reviewed the teams’ progress and flight rationale at the upcoming Delta Agency Flight Test Readiness Review,” he said.

Both Sunita Williams and Barry Wilmore continue practicing in Starliner simulators and the crew that remains quarantined will fly back to NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida closer to the new launch date, the space agency said.

Mission managers of the Boeing Starliner’s Crewed Test Flight (CFT) called off the mission on May 7, just two hours before the scheduled launch due to a valve glitch in the Atlas 5 rocket’s upper stage. Boeing said in its statement that the valve was successfully replaced on May 11 and tested to confirm it was working properly.

Later on May 14, NASA announced that the CFT mission scheduled for May 17 has been pushed to no later than May 21 due to what it described as a “small helium leak” in the spacecraft’s service module.

On May 17 the space agency said that the launch was further pushed back to May 25.

The flight marking Boeing’s first Starliner spacecraft mission with a human crew, is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which is working with the US aerospace industry through a public-private partnership to launch astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from US soil.

NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX in September 2014 to transport crew to the International Space Station from the United States. These integrated spacecraft, rockets and associated systems will carry up to four astronauts on NASA missions, maintaining a space station crew of seven to maximize time dedicated to scientific research on the orbiting laboratory.

After a failed attempt in December 2019, Boeing conducted a successful uncrewed Orbital Flight Test 2 (OFT-2) in 2022. Its Starliner is expected to be reusable for up to ten missions within a six-month turnaround time, according to the aerospace company.

Elon Musk-owned SpaceX company’s Crew Dragon has performed 12 crewed missions since its first launch on May 30, 2020.

Boeing received over USD 4 billion in US federal funds to develop the Starliner, while SpaceX received about USD 2.6 billion.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)