On Thursday, NASA invited media to the launch of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The news release included a launch date for the mission: December 17.
This uncrewed test flight will validate the in-flight capabilities of the Starliner vehicle and the Atlas V rocket that will launch it into orbit. This mission is a precursor to human flights on Starliner, which NASA has paid Boeing to develop for astronaut transport to the International Space Station.
NASA's invitation is notable because Boeing's "Orbital Flight Test-1" notional launch date has slipped several times, and NASA generally only sends a request for press credentials when it is fairly confident in a launch date. A source said some uncertainty remains in the date, but confidence will increase if Boeing succeeds in moving a fueled Starliner from its facility at Kennedy Space Center to United Launch Alliance's facility in mid-November. During this procedure, the spacecraft will be stacked atop an Atlas V rocket for final processing ahead of the launch.
Another key test will come during the agency's Flight Readiness Review, a meeting during which the agency gives formal approval for the mission to proceed. As space reporter Jeff Foust noted on Twitter on Thursday, when NASA sent out the original media accreditation notice for SpaceX's Demo-1 mission in late 2018, the launch was planned for January of this year. The mission actually launched in early March.