NASA Says Boeing’s Starliner Won’t Launch Until 2022
NASA and Boeing have provided an update on the status of the Starliner spacecraft, which has been on the verge of launching several times now. The vessel was supposed to head off to the International Space Station (ISS) in August, but a last-minute issue with the craft’s fuel valves caused the launch to be aborted, and attempting to fix the valves has proven challenging. NASA now says Starliner won’t launch until 2022 as Boeing works to verify the issue and develop a fix to prevent similar failures in the future.
Starliner was on the launchpad in August for Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) when engineers discovered 13 stuck valves in the main engines (OMAC) and reaction control (RCS) systems. Unable to open the valves, Boeing had no choice but to scrub the launch and send Starliner back to the factory. According to the latest NASA blog post, all but one of the valves is now operational, and Boeing is going to leave that one stuck for now.
This isn’t just a matter of getting the valves operational and moving on with the launch — Boeing needs to understand what caused the issue and develop permanent fixes. After all, Starliner is supposed to carry human passengers, and no one’s going to want to strap into a flawed spacecraft. Boeing has opted to leave one valve stuck to “preserve forensics for direct root cause analysis.” Boeing does believe it has a working understanding of the issue, though. In fact, it’s so confident that it has begun to plan for how it will mitigate the problem.
The delays aren’t over yet, but Boeing can’t risk the failure of OFT-2, which is already a do-over of sorts. In 2019, Boeing tried to fly the first OFT mission, which consisted of the uncrewed spacecraft launching and rendezvousing with the ISS. Software issues caused the vessel to end up in the wrong orbit, but that was a good outcome — Boeing later admitted that it almost lost Starliner during the mission. NASA decided to have Boeing to refly the mission, but it’s almost like Starliner is cursed. The valves are only the most recent technical issue plaguing the Starliner, and NASA now expects OFT-2 won’t launch until 2022, more than two years after the last attempt. It’s currently assessing dates in the first half of 2022 for the test. NASA recently moved two astronauts from Starliner to SpaceX Dragon to get them into space sooner.
Depending on the outcome of the valve investigation, Boeing has several options. First, it could refurbish the current Starliner capsule, which is still inside the Starliner production factory at Kennedy Space Center. It might also choose to move to a new Starliner, which is already in production. Whichever way Boeing decides to go, this might be its last chance.
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October 11, 2021 at 01:18PM