The troubled launch of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is being postponed again

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

John Raoux/AP


hide caption

change caption

John Raoux/AP


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

John Raoux/AP

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

NASA had scheduled the launch for May 21 after a May 6 launch, but the helium leak was discovered on Wednesday. While the agency said the leak in the craft’s thruster system was stable and would not pose a risk during flight, “Boeing teams are working to develop operational procedures to ensure the system maintains sufficient performance and appropriate redundancy during the flight.”

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

The delay is the latest for the Starliner’s first crewed mission, which will carry NASA astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Sunita “Suni” Williams to the International Space Station. The astronauts will spend about a week aboard the space station before making a parachute- and airbag-assisted landing in the southwestern US.

If that mission is successful, NASA will begin the final process to certify Starliner for crewed rotational missions to the space station.

The delay comes about a decade after NASA awarded Boeing a more than $4 billion contract as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, which pays private companies to transport astronauts to and from the space station after the space shuttle went out of service in 2011 was stated.

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

A history of delays and design problems

But the Starliner program has been plagued by delays and design problems for years.

On its first mission in 2019, it failed to reach the space station after the onboard clock, which was incorrectly set, caused a computer to fire the capsule’s engines too early. The spacecraft successfully docked with the space station during its second test flight in 2022, despite the failure of some thrusters during launch.

Boeing then canceled the planned launch of the Starliner’s first crewed flight last year after company officials realized that the tape used on the craft to wrap hundreds of feet of wiring was flammable, and that the lines connecting the capsule to the three parachute connection appeared to be weaker than the planned launch of the Starliner’s first crewed flight last year. expected. The launch was postponed indefinitely.

The May 6 launch was canceled due to a faulty oxygen relief valve, NASA said.

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

Boeing has faced intense criticism this year over the commercial aviation side of its business after a rear door plug blew out of an Alaska Airlines flight shortly after takeoff in January.

Whistleblowers have since come forward detailing alleged quality control deficiencies at the storied company, and the Federal Aviation Administration said it was auditing Boeing’s production. The Justice Department also announced it would open a criminal investigation into the Alaska Airlines incident.

NPR’s Joe Hernandez and Geoff Brumfiel contributed reporting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *