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NASA and Boeing target December for second Starliner test flight

A second unpiloted test flight of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner astronaut ferry ship is now targeted for no earlier than December, NASA announced Friday, a full year after an initial test flight was marred by major software problems and other glitches.

If Orbital Test Flight No. 2 goes well, Boeing and NASA plan to launch a Starliner on the first piloted test flight next summer carrying a crew of three to the International Space Station.

The capsule's first operational flight, carrying a crew of four, is expected toward the end of next year, the agency said in a blog post.

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Boeing first CST-100 Starliner capsule as it appeared in November 2019, a few weeks before its launch on the company's first unpiloted test flight. Boeing

"After a successful OFT-2, Boeing and NASA will fly Starliner's first crewed mission, the Crew Flight Test, currently targeted for no earlier than June 2021, with the first post-certification mission, called Starliner-1, tentatively scheduled for no earlier than late December 2021," NASA said.

SpaceX is already launching astronauts to the space station aboard its Crew Dragon capsule following a successful unpiloted test flight last year and a follow-on piloted flight that carried astronauts Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken to the lab complex earlier this summer.

The first operational Crew Dragon flight, with three NASA astronauts and a veteran Japanese flier, is targeted for launch around Oct. 23.

Boeing launched its Starliner on the unpiloted OFT-1 test flight in December 2019. But the spacecraft's computer set its mission clock to the wrong time before liftoff, causing it to miss a critical orbit raising maneuver.

That problem, combined with a communications issue, prevented a rendezvous and docking with the space station.

Boeing Starliner cuts short first mission 04:04

Boeing engineers then found another software oversight that could have caused the spacecraft's service module, jettisoned prior to atmospheric entry, to crash back into the capsule.

That problem was corrected in flight, but it and the timing error later were characterized as "high visibility close calls" by NASA, prompting an additional, more focused investigation and additional recommendations to address organizational issues.

Boeing "remains focused on incorporating the recommendations from the joint NASA-Boeing Independent Review Team with almost 75 percent of the 80 proposed actions implemented," NASA said Friday.

"Following a successful OFT-2, Boeing will focus full attention on preparations for its final flight test with astronauts and is already completing work on the Crew Flight Test spacecraft in parallel."

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