Starliner: Boeing’s first manned space flight postponed

Image source, NASA/Boeing

  • author, Joao da Silva
  • Role, Business reporter

Boeing’s first crewed spaceflight was delayed just two hours before launch for a safety check, NASA officials said.

Astronauts Butch Wilmore and Sonny Williams were already in position inside the Starliner spacecraft when the decision was made to stop due to a potential problem with the oxygen relief valve on the Atlas rocket operated by United Launch Alliance.

There was no problem with Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft perched atop the rocket.

Flight engineers discovered that the valve was opening and closing rapidly in the run-up to launch, so the countdown was cancelled.

The flight team is currently examining the data to see how much energy the valve has expended. If it exceeds its service life, it will need to be replaced, which ULA says its engineers can do within a few days.

The spacecraft was expected to launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida and head to the International Space Station.

Boeing said in a post on social media that the earliest a new launch attempt could be Friday.

The mission has already been postponed for several years due to setbacks in the spacecraft’s development.

“Stop trying to launch tonight,” NASA President Bill Nelson said in a tweet. “As I said before, NASA’s first priority is safety. We will go when we are ready.”

Boeing hopes to become the second private company able to provide crew transportation to and from the International Space Station, alongside Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

The Starliner’s first unmanned test flight was originally scheduled for 2015, but it ended up being postponed until 2019. When that happened, software glitches caused the internal clock to malfunction, causing the thrusters to overfire. So much fuel was consumed that the capsule could not reach the International Space Station.

A second attempt was planned for August 2021 but was postponed again until May 2022. A problem with the propulsion system was blamed. When Starliner finally left Earth, it was able to complete its full mission but concerns were raised about the performance of some of the vehicle’s propulsion devices and cooling system.

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