Launch of Boeing’s troubled Starliner spacecraft postponed to May 25: NPR

Boeing’s Starliner capsule is seen atop an Atlas 5 rocket at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on May 7, a day after its mission to the International Space Station was canceled due to a problem with a pressure regulating valve.

John Rooks/AP


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Boeing’s Starliner capsule is seen atop an Atlas 5 rocket at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on May 7, a day after its mission to the International Space Station was canceled due to a problem with a pressure regulating valve.

John Rooks/AP

The first crewed launch of Boeing’s troubled Starliner spacecraft has been postponed again, to May 25, this time due to a helium leak in the service module.

NASA had scheduled the launch for May 21 after canceling the launch on May 6, but a helium leak was discovered on Wednesday. while The agency said The leak in the vehicle’s propulsion system was stable and would not pose a risk during flight. “Boeing teams are developing operational procedures to ensure the system maintains sufficient performance capability and adequate redundancy during flight.”

While this work is ongoing, NASA said the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) and the International Space Station program will review the data and procedures before making a final decision on whether to proceed with the countdown.

The delay is the latest in the first crewed Starliner mission, which will transport NASA astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Sunita “Sonny” Williams to the International Space Station. The astronauts are scheduled to spend about a week on board the space station before landing by parachute and airbag in the southwestern United States.

If this mission is successful, NASA will begin the final process of certifying Starliner for crewed rotation missions to the space station.

The delay comes nearly a decade after NASA awarded Boeing a contract worth more than $4 billion as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, which pays private companies to ferry astronauts to and from the space station after the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011.

SpaceX, which also received a $2 billion contract under the CCP initiative, has flown eight crewed missions for NASA and four private crewed spaceflights since 2020.

History of delays and design problems

But the Starliner program was plagued by delays and design problems for several years.

It failed to reach the space station during its first mission in 2019 after the clock on board, which… It is set incorrectly, causing a computer to start the capsule’s engines too early. The spacecraft successfully docked with the space station during its second test flight in 2022, although some propulsion devices failed during launch.

Then Boeing canceled the planned launch of the first manned Starliner flight last year, after company officials realized that the duct tape used on the vehicle to wrap hundreds of yards of wire was flammable, and the lines connecting the capsule to its three parachutes appeared to be weaker than that. is expected. The launch has been postponed indefinitely.

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NASA said that the launch, which took place on May 6, was canceled due to a defect in the oxygen relief valve.

NASA said Wilmore and Williams remain in quarantine in Houston and will return to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida as the new launch date approaches. The Starliner vehicle, which sits atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, remains at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Boeing has faced intense scrutiny this year on the commercial aviation side of its business after the tailgate plug on an Alaska Airlines flight exploded shortly after takeoff in January.

Whistleblowers have since come forward to provide details of alleged quality control lapses at the reputed company, and the FAA said it was reviewing Boeing’s production. The Ministry of Justice also announced that it would do so Open a criminal investigation In the Alaska Airlines incident.

NPR’s Joe Hernandez and Jeff Brumfiel contributed reporting.

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