A NASA official said today that Boeing was still troubleshooting what was wrong with its Starliner spacecraft in August, cleaning up the test flight hours before launch. They are still working on a schedule, but she said it could be next year before the theft can be attempted again.
On August 3, Boeing was preparing for its Starliner Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2). This second unmanned test flight by Starliner, a competitor to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon for “commercial crew” services bringing NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, was itself the result of an earlier problem. . The first OFT, in December 2019, suffered software failures and although it was launched and landed safely, it could have ended catastrophically if one of the software issues had not been detected at the last minute.
Boeing decided to fly the spacecraft unmanned before taking people on board. Since this is a fixed price contract, Boeing has to pay the additional costs.
OFT-2 is this reflight. It took 20 months, but on August 3 the company and NASA thought they were ready to go. Starliner was on the launch pad atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, just two hours from launch. Suddenly the launch was cleaned up.
Boeing later explained that 13 of the 64 valves in Starliner’s propulsion system had not opened. Boeing is still trying to figure out why. They had worked perfectly in a test 5 weeks earlier.
SpacePolicyOnline.com asked Boeing for an update last week, six weeks after the cleanup, and was told the root cause was still not determined.
The team continues to work multiple troubleshooting efforts in parallel to resolve the oxidant isolation valve issue that delayed Starliner’s Orbital Flight Test-2 mission. Testing takes place both on the vehicle and in offline labs. Progress is being made to eliminate potential causes through a detailed fault tree analysis. Upcoming OFT-2 launch opportunities will be evaluated by Boeing, NASA and United Launch Alliance once our root cause analysis and corrective action plan has helped us define the appropriate path to the launch pad. . – Boeing spokesperson, September 15, 2021
Today, Kathy Lueders, who is currently NASA’s associate administrator for space operations, said the launch may not take place until 2022.
The valves are located in the Starliner service module and will need to be removed. They are considering whether to replace the service module with another and will make a decision “within the next few weeks”.
I think right now the timeline and manifesto until the end of the year is pretty tight right now, so my hunch is that it would probably be more likely next year, but we’re working on that timeline. . I don’t think we’re ready to officially determine when exactly the OFT-2 mission will take place, but I think the team is making great strides in troubleshooting and I absolutely know that we’ll fix this before we fly. – Kathy Lueders
Lueders led NASA’s Commercial Crew Program until last summer when she was promoted to lead the agency’s entire human spaceflight program as Associate Administrator of the Directorate of the human exploration and operations mission (HEOMD).
Today, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson has split HEOMD into two: the Space Operations Mission Directorate (SOMD) and the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate (ESDMD). Lueders is now AA for SOMD and Jim Free has been appointed to lead ESDMD. The commercial crew program remains in its portfolio. His comments on Starliner today were made on a teleconference about the reorganization.