Boeing Starliner Launch Updates Explained After Mission Hits Multiple Delays

The launch of Boeing's Starliner space taxi capsule was postponed and the rocket returned to its hangar on Thursday as engineers worked to identify the cause of an issue with the spacecraft's valves.

Starliner's mission has now been delayed twice from its original launch window of July 30, and NASA has not yet announced when the spacecraft will again be rolled out to the launchpad.

Starliner is a space capsule developed by private aerospace company Boeing with the purpose of ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) and into low-Earth orbit.

Its upcoming mission, known as OFT-2, will mark the second orbital flight test of the capsule. If everything had gone to plan, it would already have happened.

But the mission was initially pushed back because of an incident aboard the ISS last week, in which a new Russian research module called Nauka accidentally fired its thrusters and pushed the whole space station into an unplanned tilt.

In a statement, NASA said the postponement of OFT-2 would give the ISS team time to make sure the station was ready for the capsule's arrival.

The next launch date was scheduled for August 3. However, just hours before the launch Boeing engineers discovered that something was wrong with the valves in the spacecraft's propulsion system and said that the launch would need to be delayed and might happen on August 4 instead.

Engineers from both NASA and Boeing worked to fix the valve issue, which caused them to be in unexpected positions.

Eventually, NASA announced the August 4 launch wouldn't be happening either, and both Starliner and the Atlas V rocket it sits on have been rolled back into their hangar for further investigation. A new launch date has not yet been announced.

Following the August 3 launch delay, John Vollmer, program manager of Boeing's commercial crew, said he was "disappointed" at the situation in a statement.

He added: "Human spaceflight is a complex, precise and unforgiving endeavor, and Boeing and NASA teams will take the time they need to ensure the safety and integrity of the spacecraft and the achievement of our mission objectives."

The capsule has launched just once before in a 2019 unmanned mission now known as OFT-1, in which Starliner reached orbit but did not end up docking with the ISS due to issues it encountered.

The upcoming mission, OFT-2, will again attempt to reach the ISS.

Along with SpaceX's Dragon capsule, Starliner will enable NASA to send astronauts to the ISS using U.S.-built technology. For years after the close of the space shuttle program, NASA had to rely on Russian technology—the single-use Soyuz capsule—to make the trip.

Boeing Starliner on rocket
The Starliner capsule seen atop the Atlas V rocket on Thursday, July 29, at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The mission, called OFT-2, has been called off for now as engineers work to fix an issue. Joel Kowsky/Getty / NASA