Boeing Starliner Schedule Slips as First Test Article Comes Together

A Boeing engineer works on joining the upper and lower half of a Starliner structural test article. (Credit: Boeing)
A Boeing engineer works on joining the upper and lower half of a Starliner structural test article. (Credit: Boeing)

Alan Boyle reports that the first crewed Starliner flight to the International Space Station has slipped its schedule.

“We’re working toward our first unmanned flight in 2017, followed by a manned astronaut flight in 2018,” Leanne Caret, who is Boeing’s executive vice president as well as president and chief executive officer of Boeing’s defense, space and security division, said at a briefing for investors.

Previously, Boeing said both test flights, uncrewed and crewed, were scheduled for 2017. Just this week, Aviation Week reported that Boeing was sticking to the 2017 schedule, even though it’s been working through challenges related to the mass of the spacecraft and aeroacoustic issues related to integration with its United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 launch vehicle.

In a follow-up to Caret’s comments, Boeing spokeswoman Rebecca Regan told GeekWire that those factors contributed to the schedule slip. In addition, NASA software updates have added more work for developers.

SpaceX is still on schedule to fly two demo flights of the Dragon crew vehicle to the space station in 2017. Spaceflight Now says the first automated test flight is current scheduled for next May, having slipped from December. A crewed test flight would follow later in the year.

Starliner structural test article. (Credit: Boeing)
Starliner structural test article. (Credit: Boeing)

Meanwhile, Boeing reached a milestone on May 2 when engineers bolted together the upper and lower parts of the first Starliner structural test article. The work is being done in a former space shuttle processing facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The structural test article will be used for loads and separation tests at Boeing’s facility in Huntington Beach, Calif. It will not fly into space.

“Our team is initiating qualification testing on dozens of components and preparing to assemble flight hardware,” said John Mulholland, vice president and program manager of Boeing’s Commercial Programs. “These are the first steps in an incredibly exciting, important and challenging year.”