Texas power outages delay Boeing’s repeat Starliner test launch

OFT-2 now scheduled for no earlier than April 2

FILE - In this Dec. 22, 2019 file photo, the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft jettisons its heat shield before it lands in White Sands, N.M., after an aborted test flight to the International Space Station. On Friday, Feb. 6, 2020, NASA said Boeing faces 61 safety corrective actions following the unsuccessful December test. (Aubrey Gemignani/NASA via AP) (Aubrey Gemignani, NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

Sweeping power outages across Texas are also impacting space operations. Boeing announced Wednesday the repeat orbital test flight of its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft will be pushed at least one week because of winter storm-related impacts and launch preparations.

Starliner is Boeing’s spacecraft designed to fly NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station under the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, however, the company must finish a series of tests before the U.S. space agency gives it the OK to fly humans on board.

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To earn the human spaceflight certification, Boeing will launch an uncrewed Starliner capsule atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, dock at the space station and return it home as part of an orbital test flight. This will be the second attempt for Boeing’s Starliner OFT after a December 2019 test flight ended early following a computer timing error.

Boeing and NASA were targeting March 25 but in an update, Wednesday Boeing said operations preparing for launch are being impacted by the power outages caused by the storm covering most of the country in snow, including in Texas where Boeing has a facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Other factors also led to the delay.

NASA said shifting the launch date will allow more time for spacecraft and hardware processing.

Boeing also “recently replaced avionics units affected as a result of a power surge due to a ground support equipment configuration issue during final checkouts,” according to NASA.

Boeing is now targeting no earlier than April 2.

“NASA and Boeing teams in Houston are now contending with widespread power outages and other winter storm-related impacts in the region. Despite this, the team remains focused on the safety and quality of the spacecraft and a successful launch no earlier than April 2,” an update from Boeing read.

Flight preparations are ongoing and the company recently completed software tests, according to the update.

Prior to this flight, Boeing and NASA completed an extensive review of the ill-fated December 2019 orbital test flight, which ended 48 hours after launch. Boeing has made corrective actions to the spacecraft software and is moving ahead.

“We appreciate the significant work NASA is undertaking ahead of launch,” Boeing Starliner’s vice president and program manager John Vollmer said in a statement. “We’re fully engaged in the agency’s review process to ensure confidence in the spacecraft.”

If the March OFT-2 goes well, the spacecraft will dock at the ISS and return to Earth, landing in New Mexico.

Following a full review of the test, Boeing could fly its first astronaut crew in December, according to NASA’s most recent timeline. NASA astronauts Nicole Mann, Mike Fincke and Barry “Butch” Wilmore will be the first to fly in Starliner to the ISS when it does happen.

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