The troubled program has experienced numerous postponements but was finally meant to send astronauts to the International Space Station on July 21.
During testing, however, Boeing engineers identified new issues relating to a faulty parachute system and wire harness tape used extensively through the capsule that was found to be flammable under some conditions.
"Right now, based on the current plans, we're anticipating that we're going to be ready with the spacecraft in early March," said Mark Nappi, Boeing vice president and program manager of the Starliner program.
He added that the actual launch date would depend on constraints in the space calendar and would be decided together with NASA and the United Launch Alliance that provides the Atlas V rocket for Starliner.
Nappi explained that a component of the parachute system called the "soft links" had been reinforced with Kevlar, and improvements were made to its stitching.
Substantial amounts of the electrical tape have been removed, while in other areas they have been protectively covered, he added.
The company finally succeeded in May 2022 in reaching the ISS for the first time -- without a crew on board.
Steve Stich, NASA's Commercial Crew program manager, defended the delays as being in the interest of safety, and reiterated the space agency's commitment to Boeing in the face of increasing criticism from observers.
"We will go fly this mission when we're ready," said Stich, adding: "It's hugely important for Commercial Crew to bring on a second crew transportation system for the ISS program."
NASA hopes to certify Starliner as a second "taxi" service for its astronauts to the space station -- a role that Elon Musk's SpaceX has provided since succeeding in a test mission of its Dragon capsule in 2020.
The US space agency awarded fixed-price contracts of $4.2 billion to Boeing and $2.6 billion to SpaceX in 2014, shortly after the end of the space shuttle program, during a time when the United States had to rely on Russian Soyuz rockets for rides to the ISS.
Rocket Science News at Space-Travel.Com
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