Starliner mission to ISS postponed until further notice after propulsion issue

The unmanned, so-called Orbital Flight Test 2 of Boeing’s Starliner capsule has been postponed indefinitely. The July 30 launch was rescheduled to August 3, but was ultimately canceled due to a report of a possible valve or valve drive issue.

In a statement, Boeing wrote: that the launch of the CST-100 Starliner has been canceled to find out the source or cause of ‘the unexpected’ valve position indications in the propulsion system’. According to the company, these issues were detected during checks after a thunderstorm passed over Kennedy Space Center on Monday.

The company says technicians use the propulsion system valves of the Service Module of the Atlas V rocket and the Starliner capsule. Based on this, a number of potential causes have been ruled out, such as software issues. The actual cause has not yet been found and Boeing says it needs more time to find out. The missile and capsule will be wheeled back to the Vertical Integration Facility on Wednesday to allow for further inspections. Boeing wants to look at the available data before attempting another launch.

The launch should have taken place on July 30, but that was then moved to August 3 after the problems with the Russian Nauka module and the ISS. The road to the ISS did not go smoothly and once docked to the ISS, the propulsion motors of the module were unintentionally ignited. As a result, the ISS was temporarily rotated by as much as 540 degrees, said NASA’s flight director Zebulon Scoville to the New York Times. NASA previously reported that it was 45 degrees. Incidentally, along with this module, the European robotic arm to the ISS.

Like SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, the Starliner capsule is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. This is a program in which Boeing and SpaceX can each transport astronauts to the ISS with their own capsule. Boeing wants to do that with Atlas V rockets and SpaceX uses its Falcon 9 rockets for that.

SpaceX is quite far ahead of Boeing. Elon Musk’s company has already brought ten astronauts to the ISS with the Crew Dragon. Boeing, on the other hand, has yet to perform its first successful unmanned test flight to the ISS. That should have happened in December 2019, but then the Starliner capsule came in a wrong orbit around the earth, making it impossible to reach the ISS. According to NASA, that mission failed due to software errors and lack of supervision.

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