Boeing, NASA indefinitely delay crewed Starliner launch

If you've been looking forward to seeing Boeing’s Starliner capsule carry two astronauts to the International Space Station for the first time, you'll have to wait a bit longer.

The mission, which has already been beset by issues with both the rocket and helium tanks, is now delayed indefinitely, NASA said in a statement late Tuesday. The agency had been targeting a May 25 launch date.

"The team has been in meetings for two consecutive days, assessing flight rationale, system performance, and redundancy," the space agency said. "There is still forward work in these areas, and the next possible launch opportunity is still being discussed. NASA will share more details once we have a clearer path forward.”

There is little else to go on at the moment other than that statement, so it’s unclear whether the helium leak issue in the spacecraft’s propulsion system — which was identified a few days before the CST-100 Starliner was due to launch on May 17 — is the sole cause for the ongoing delay.

The Starliner program as a whole has been delayed for years, but it seemed the constant technical issues were finally coming to an end when Boeing and NASA announced that the mission would go forward on May 6. That launch was scrubbed due to an issue with the ULA Atlas rocket, and was rescheduled for May 17. However, on May 14, Boeing said the launch had slipped due to the helium leak issue; it was rescheduled for May 25. And now that date is off the table.

Boeing and NASA have provided few other updates on the mission, and have not held any press conferences since the launch was scrubbed at the beginning of the month.

There is a lot riding on this first crewed mission — chiefly, the lives of the two astronauts, Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams — so it only makes sense for NASA and Boeing to be as cautious as possible when it comes to technical issues. This mission also marks the final test that Boeing must complete before NASA certifies the capsule to start ferrying astronauts to and from the ISS on a more regular schedule.

Only then can Boeing start to fulfill the terms of its multibillion-dollar astronaut taxi contract it was awarded in 2014. SpaceX was also granted a contract for astronaut transportation services, and it has been doing so since 2020 with its Dragon capsule.