NASA targeting first Boeing Starliner astronaut launch in February

NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore will launch on Starliner Calypso early next year for the crew flight test to the International Space Station.

NASA and Boeing are targeting February for the first Starliner spacecraft launch with two astronauts to the International Space Station, which will become the second commercial available ride for NASA astronauts to the orbiting laboratory.

Boeing completed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) without a crew in May, launching the CST-100 Starliner on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V from Cape Canaveral. The spacecraft autonomously docked at the space station and then returned to Earth about a week later, landing in New Mexico. 

This was the second time in orbit for the vehicle designed to fly NASA astronauts to and from the ISS, but the first visit to the space station. A 2019 attempt to complete the OFT ended without docking at the ISS because of a computer glitch.

Since Starliner's return, NASA and Boeing teams have reviewed all the Starliner systems' data, including checking through all 252 flight test objectives.

"Based on that analysis, we're even more pleased with how the flight performed. And we're very much looking forward to flying crew on CFT next," Boeing Starliner Program Manager Mark Nappi said.

After reviewing some in-flight anomalies, Boeing engineers determined four major areas needing some changes ahead of the CFT.

Those items include some work on the thrusters used for orbital insertion and the service and crew modules. Nappi described some "tweaks" that can remedy delayed sensor responses and said Boeing teams could do all the work before CFT.


The OFT-2 tested the Vesta docking system for the first time, and Starliner had some delays pulling into the ISS to park. It missed the first docking window but made it on the second attempt. 

"The vesta system performed very well, but we found that it was collecting quite a bit of data and was really more data that can be managed," Nappi said. "We've altered our flight software to accommodate this increase in data."

Nappi said those fixes are factored into the estimated February launch window. 


When Boeing's CFT does happen, NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore will make up the crew on the test flight to the ISS. Williams named the Starliner capsule Calypso after it returned from the first orbital test flight in 2019.

Williams and Wilmore will spend about eight days in space testing the Starliner's systems and conducting research on the ISS with their fellow astronauts.

Boeing developed the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. SpaceX's Crew Dragon has successfully launched four long-duration astronaut missions to the ISS for NASA as part of the program and is planning a fifth in October.

With a successful astronaut launch from Boeing, NASA will have two American-made spacecraft to shuttle its astronauts to and from the International Space Station.