Boeing's first manned flight of its CST-100 Starliner is going to last a little longer and lift off months later than originally planned. After an in-depth technical assessment, NASA and Boeing have reached an agreement that the duration of the Crew Flight Test will be extended to allow for more microgravity research, maintenance, and other tasks while the capsule is docked with the International Space Station (ISS).
The new mission duration and launch date are still to be sorted because shifting the Crew Flight Test means finding a spot for the flight in NASA's launch schedule, which is very busy in April and May, and working around a US Air Force national security launch in June. This means that the Crew Flight Test will take place closer to the end of this year.
Along with the launch, the space agency, like any good traffic controller, must make sure that the Starliner's visit to the space station won't interfere with the arrivals or departures of other crew or cargo craft.
In addition, Boeing and NASA are preparing for the Starliner's first unmanned flight, the Orbital Flight Test, which is slated for August 31. According to NASA, shifting the manned flight will allow engineers and technicians to concentrate on that first validation test flight. The Starliner is designed to be flown up to 10 times before it needs replacement, so testing and integration are critical for the program.
In anticipation for these flights, the Starliner is undergoing a series of five parachute tests, installation and testing of the new NASA Docking System (NDS) that will be used to dock with the ISS, and a Pad Abortion Test at the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. Also, the Starliner that will carry NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Mike Fincke and Boeing's Chris Ferguson has recently completed its Environmental Qualification Tests.
"NASA's assessment of extending the mission was found to be technically achievable without compromising the safety of the crew," says Phil McAlister, director of the commercial spaceflight division at NASA Headquarters. "Commercial crew flight tests, along with the additional Soyuz opportunities, help us transition with greater flexibility to our next-generation commercial systems under the Commercial Crew Program."
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