Boeing assessing launch dates in August for Starliner space capsule

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FILE PHOTO: Atlas V rocket carrying Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule is prepared for launch for do-over test flight in Cape Canaveral

(Reuters) – Boeing Co said on Monday it was assessing multiple dates this month for the launch of its CST-100 Starliner space capsule to the International Space Station.

The company last week postponed the capsule’s much awaited launch after discovering a glitch in its propulsion system valves during pre-launch checks.

Boeing said on Monday it fixed problems over the weekend on more of its 13 CST-100 Starliner propulsion system valves and inspections showed no signs of damage or external corrosion.

“Seven of the 13 valves are now operating as designed, with inspection and remediation of the remaining affected valves to be performed in the days ahead,” the company said.

Boeing said it was working with NASA and United Launch Alliance, its partnership with Lockheed Martin Corp, to confirm launch dates when the spacecraft is ready.

The CST-100 Starliner will take people to and from low-earth orbit and Boeing has said a manned mission will take place no earlier than December, as it competes with Elon Musk’s SpaceX to be the first to return NASA astronauts to the space station from U.S. soil in nearly a decade.

(Reporting by Abhijith Ganapavaram in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)


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Boeing Starliner Launch Scrubbed. No Idea When it Might fly

With all the news recently about relatively young rocket companies successfully flinging their founders and some actual astronauts into space, it might be surprising that the rocket company with the most experience of all still hasn’t gotten its flagship new rocket off the ground with people yet.  And after yet another delay, there is now no firm date for the launch of Boeing’s Starliner.

This setback is the latest in a string of them for the aerospace giant.  Some were out of their control, such as a Russian module knocking the ISS for a loop around when Starliner was supposed to launch, but many have been, including this newest delay.

Discussion of some of the pros and cons of multiple crewed space modules.

The company pointed to valves in the engine that weren’t set to the right positions before the liftoff scheduled for August 4th.  After ruling out software as a potential cause, the company has not yet provided any information on other causes or any timeline for implementing a fix. However, it has recently said it still hopes to launch sometime in August.

If the problem did stem from software, it wouldn’t be the first time Starliner suffered from bad code.  On its original uncrewed test flight in December 2019, a software glitch caused its thrusters to misfire, leaving it without enough fuel to reach the ISS and forcing an emergency descent back to Earth.  During that descent, the spacecraft experienced a “dire flight anomaly” – a euphemism for almost coming apart.  It did manage to land safely at White Sands Missile Range, and Boeing’s engineers set to work diagnosing and fixing the problems.

View from inside the capsule during Starliner’s first, partially successful test flight in 2019.
Credit – Boeing YouTube Channel

Those problems prove that rocket science is, in fact, hard.  Preliminary teething problems for a completely new rocket are not all that surprising.  But Boeing is not operating in a vacuum, and its competitors, such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin, have all had notable successful human flight stories of late.  

Having originally been granted a NASA contract to develop human orbital capabilities to replace the shuttle, Boeing is no longer leading the pack as a rocket company.   Whether or not they can catch back up to their younger, more nimble competitors remains to be seen.  But this further delay is surely not a good sign.

Learn More:
Phys.org – Boeing Starliner launch delayed indefinitely
Space.com – Boeing’s Starliner still hoping for August launch despite technical troubles
Washington Post – 13 valves failed to open on Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, a more widespread problem than previously reported
cnet – NASA, Boeing Starliner launch to ISS on hold as spacecraft investigation continues

Lead Image:
Starliner perched atop an Atlas V rocket from ULA.
Credit – Boeing

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Boeing’s Starliner still hoping for August launch despite technical troubles

Boeing is still hoping to achieve an August launch date for its Starliner capsule amid continuing technical problems with the spacecraft. 

Last week, Boeing delayed a crucial uncrewed test launch for its Starliner astronaut taxi after engineers detected an issue with valves in the vehicle’s propulsion system that didn’t open as designed during prelaunch checks. Now, the company has revealed that they found issues with 13 valves and, since the problem was first detected on Aug. 3, mission teams have restored functionality to seven of those 13 valves, according to a statement from Boeing. They added that they are working towards an August launch for the vehicle.

“Boeing is working a systematic plan to open the affected valves, demonstrate repeatable system performance, and verify the root cause of the issue before returning Starliner to the launch pad for its Orbital Flight Test-2 mission,” company officials wrote in the same statement, adding that Boeing is also “assessing multiple launch opportunities in August and will work with NASA and the United Launch Alliance to confirm those dates when the spacecraft is ready.”

Related: Everything you need to know about Boeing’s Starliner OFT-2 mission

“Boeing has completed physical inspections and chemical sampling on the exterior of a number of the affected valves, which indicated no signs of damage or external corrosion,” officials wrote in the statement. “Test teams are now applying mechanical, electrical and thermal techniques to prompt the valves open. Seven of the 13 valves are now operating as designed, with inspection and remediation of the remaining affected valves to be performed in the days ahead.”

After engineers initially detected the valve issue on Aug. 3, the company hoped to possibly resolve it in time for an Aug. 4 launch. However, on Aug. 4 Boeing announced that the launch would be delayed further while engineers ensured Starliner’s readiness. 

Boeing is readying Starliner to fly as part of the company’s Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission, an uncrewed test flight to and from the International Space Station. Starliner is Boeing’s crew capsule that it developed with support from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to ferry astronauts to and from orbit as SpaceX does with its Crew Dragon craft. 

As part of the OFT-2 mission, Starliner will launch aboard a ULA Atlas V rocket, rendezvous and dock with the space station, unload cargo and stay docked for between 5 and 10 days and then return home to touch down on land with the assistance of parachutes. 

This is Starliner’s second attempt at an uncrewed test flight. The first OFT mission in December 2019 flight didn’t go as planned and Starliner wasn’t able to connect with the space station, instead making an early landing back on Earth. 

Following the success of OFT-2, Boeing plans to begin launching NASA astronauts aboard the vehicle. Prior to recent delays, Boeing had said it will start sending up crewed launches by the end of this year; the company has not commented whether this goal still holds. 

Email Chelsea Gohd at cgohd@space.com or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Boeing working to overcome Starliner hardware obstacle before setting new launch date

Starliner OFT-2 launch scrubbed after hitting snag with propulsion system

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft in the ULA hangar as teams work to correct an issue detected with some of the valves in the spacecraft’s propulsion system. (Image credit: Boeing) (WKMG 2021)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Boeing is assessing multiple launch dates in August to try again to send its Starliner spacecraft on a test spaceflight to the International Space Station.

The orbital flight test 2 (OFT-2) launch was scrubbed Aug. 3, hours before the ULA Atlas V rocket was set to liftoff from Cape Canaveral. Boeing said engineers monitoring the status of the spacecraft detected an unexpected valve position in the propulsion system. According to NASA, the valves connect to thrusters that enable emergency abort and maneuvering while the spacecraft is in orbit.

Since the scrub, the rocket was rolled back into the ULA hangar, where teams continue to resolve the problem.

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According to an update Monday from Boeing, the propulsion system valves did not open as designed last week during pre-launch checks. After inspecting the affected hardware, there were no signs of damage or external corrosion, according to Boeing.

Seven of the system’s 13 valves are operating normally and teams are working to get the remaining valves working as they were designed, according to the update.

Aerojet Rocketdyne, the manufacture of the valves, is also working with Boeing on the issue.

“Boeing is working a systematic plan to open the affected valves, demonstrate repeatable system performance and verify the root cause of the issue before returning Starliner to the launchpad for its Orbital Flight Test-2 mission,” the company said in a statement.

Boeing is working with ULA and NASA to determine the next launch opportunity for August. According to NASA, the earliest available launch date is in mid-August.

“In the coming days, NASA and Boeing will continue work to bring all affected valves into the proper configuration,” NASA said in an update. “If all valve functionality can be restored and root cause identified, NASA will work with Boeing to determine a path to flight for the important uncrewed mission to the space station.”

This will be the second time Boeing attempts the OFT for Starliner as it works to certify the spacecraft to fly NASA astronauts as part of the agency’s commercial crew program. The uncrewed test flight will examine Starliner’s end-to-end capabilities to launch and dock at the International Space Station before returning to Earth for landing in New Mexico.

If the test goes well, the next time Starliner launches to space there will be three NASA astronauts onboard and the U.S. space agency will have two commercial rides for humans to space. SpaceX has successfully delivered three crews of astronauts to the ISS since last summer, also as part of the commercial crew program.

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About the Author:

Emilee is a digital journalist for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com, where she writes about space and Central Florida news. Emilee hosts the Edward R. Murrow Award-winning podcast Space Curious. Previously, she was a space writer and web editor for the Orlando Sentinel and a web producer at the Naples Daily News.

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