Starliner’s first crew mission will now launch on June 1... maybe

Engineers have been working to resolve a helium leak that's led to several delays.

NASA/Joel Kowsky

The first crewed flight of Boeing’s Starliner capsule still hasn’t launched more than two weeks after its originally scheduled liftoff date, and there's going to be at least another week of waiting and uncertainty before it does. NASA announced last night that the Starliner team is now targeting a June 1 launch as engineers continue to assess the vehicle in the wake of discovering a helium leak from the propulsion system earlier this month. If the June 1 attempt is scrubbed, it'll have other chances to fly on June 2, June 5 and June 6.

It was at first looking like the mission would be postponed indefinitely after NASA called off the May 25 launch attempt on Tuesday night and didn't set a new date. At that time, NASA said it would “share more details once we have a clearer path forward,” per SpaceNews. In a blog post published Wednesday night, NASA said the leak remains stable, but the teams are still working “to assess Starliner performance and redundancy.” It's also planning to evaluate the propulsion system again “to understand potential helium system impacts on some Starliner return scenarios” and conduct another readiness review of the craft.

The first launch attempt at the beginning of the month was scrubbed due to the discovery of a faulty oxygen relief valve on the ULA Atlas V rocket carrying Starliner. Engineers replaced the valve and Starliner was slated to fly later that week, but that attempt was postponed, too. On May 14, NASA revealed that engineers were working to resolve a helium leak from the spacecraft’s propulsion system. In an update a few days later, NASA said the leak was “stable and would not pose a risk at that level during the flight.” A new targeted launch date was set at that time and ultimately rescheduled.

Delays have defined Starliner’s development up until this point, but since two astronauts — Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams — will be on board for this mission, the stakes are especially high; now isn't the time to start cutting corners. “There has been a great deal of exceptional analysis and testing over the last two weeks by the joint NASA, Boeing and ULA teams” to address the issues that have popped up, Steve Stich, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, said on Wednesday.

“It has been important that we take our time to understand all the complexities of each issue including the redundant capabilities of the Starliner propulsion system and any implications to our Interim Human Rating Certification,” Stich said. “We will launch Butch and Suni on this test mission after the entire community has reviewed the teams’ progress and flight rationale at the upcoming Delta Agency Flight Test Readiness Review.”

Update, May 23 2024, 10:08AM ET: This story has been updated to reflect new launch opportunities announced by NASA on Wednesday night, and to include additional information relating to the review process ahead of the flight.