Boeing delays debut crewed Starliner spaceflight over new issues

Boeing logo at their headquarters in Chicago

By Joey Roulette

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Boeing Co will stand down from late preparations for its first crewed Starliner test flight to space that was planned for July after it discovered two safety-critical issues with the spacecraft, a company official said on Thursday.

Boeing found flammable tape material and issues with the spacecraft's parachute lines during engineering reviews last week, as engineers were targeting a July 21 launch date for the spacecraft, Mark Nappi, the company's Starliner manager, told reporters during a joint news conference with NASA officials.

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft has flown two short trips to space but has yet to ferry astronauts.

The call to "stand down" from the scheduled July 21 test mission carrying two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) was made on Thursday morning by Boeing CEO David Calhoun during a meeting with other executives, Nappi said.

"Boeing unanimously decided that this is something that we needed to correct," he said, adding it was too early to predict a new launch date. "You can say we're disappointed because it means a delay, but the team is proud that we're making the right choices."

The delay for the crewed flight test is the latest hitch in Boeing's Starliner program, which has suffered numerous setbacks and engineering hurdles since it first attempted to dock to the ISS during a 2019 test flight that was cut short over software failures.

Boeing discovered last week that a type of tape used across the spacecraft to bundle its sprawling system of wires was flammable, Nappi said, with it now mulling a plan to wrap the flammable tape with new material in the most vulnerable areas to reduce any fire hazard.

Boeing has reported $883 million in total losses on its Starliner program, regulatory filings show. Its fixed-price NASA contract for the spacecraft's testing, development and six astronaut missions has swelled by roughly $300 million to $4.5 billion, according to contract data.

Nappi said it was too early to tell if the two new issues would add to Boeing's losses and suggested that the company, not NASA, would bear the cost of the required fixes.

(Reporting by Joey Roulette; Editing by Leslie Adler and Jamie Freed)