On Thursday, NASA invited media to launch a Starliner spacecraft Cape Canaveral Station in Florida. The news release included a mission launch date: December 1
This unspent test flight will confirm the flight capabilities of the Starliner vehicle and the Atlas V rocket that will launch it into orbit. This mission is a precursor to the Starliner human flights that NASA paid to Boeing to develop astronauts for transportation to the International Space Station.
NASA's invitation is notable because Boeing's conditional launch date "Orbital Flight Test-1" has slipped several times, and NASA generally sends a seal of attorney request only when fairly confident in the launch date. A source said there was some uncertainty about the date, but confidence would increase if Boeing was able to move the rebooted Starliner from its facility in the Kennedy Space Center to the United Launch Alliance facility in mid-November. During this procedure, the spacecraft will be deployed on an Atlas V. rocket for finishing before launch.
Another key test will come during the Flight Readiness Agency review, a meeting during which the agency gives its official approval for the Continue Mission. As space reporter Jeff Fust noted on Twitter on Thursday, when NASA sent the original media accreditation announcement for the SpaceX Demo-1 mission in late 2018, the launch was scheduled for January this year. The mission actually started in early March.
For most of the last decade, Boeing has developed the Starliner capsule as one of two possibilities for NASA to bring its crew into orbit. SpaceX is simultaneously developing its Crew Dragon spacecraft. SpaceX completed its undeveloped test flight in March, but has since encountered two major technical issues related to its escape and parachute launch system. These problems must be resolved before NASA approves a mission with astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Benken on board.
NASA is willing to bring one or both vehicles into operational missions. Although the agency purchased vehicles on the Soyuz spacecraft in the spring of 2020, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstein said Thursday that NASA would seek to buy at least one more place later in 2020 if there are ongoing problems with getting Starliner or Dragon flight crews.