TBD: Boeing, NASA determining next launch attempt for Starliner spacecraft

Teams still investigating cause of issue with spacecraft service module

A Boeing CST-100 Starliner atop a ULA Atlas V rocket at Space Launch Complex 41 in Cape Canaveral. (Image: NASA) (WKMG 2021)

MERRITT ISLAND, Fla. – Teams at NASA and Boeing are working to determine when they will try again to launch the uncrewed Starliner spacecraft from Florida’s coast after a technical issue caused a scrub for the first attempt this week.

The orbital flight test 2 (OFT-2) launch was scrubbed Tuesday hours before the ULA Atlas V rocket was set to liftoff at 1:20 p.m. from Cape Canaveral. Boeing said engineers monitoring the health and status of the spacecraft detected an unexpected valve position in the propulsion system. The issue was first discovered Monday after an electrical storm near Kennedy Space Center, according to Boeing.

The next launch opportunity for Atlas V and Starliner is Wednesday at 12:57 p.m. but Tuesday evening, Boeing said they would need more time to determine the cause of the issue located in the spacecraft service module.

“Engineering teams have now cycled the Service Module propulsion system valves with the Starliner and Atlas V on the launch pad and have ruled out a number of potential causes, including software,” Boeing said in a statement. “Additional time is needed to complete the assessment and, as a result, NASA and Boeing are not proceeding with tomorrow’s launch opportunity.”

A software issue was what caused Starliner to end its first spaceflight in December 2019 early after it missed an orbital insertion burn to catch up with the space station. After an extensive investigation, Boeing took corrective measures to make sure the spacecraft software systems won’t be a problem.

The issue behind the most recent delay appears to be a completely unrelated hardware problem.

“We’re going to let the data lead our work,” Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program manager John Vollmer said in a statement. “Our team has worked diligently to ensure the safety and success of this mission, and we will not launch until our vehicle is performing nominally and our teams are confident it is ready to fly.”

Tuesday’s scrub marked the second delay in a week for Boeing but the first was out of their control. The first planned launch date was delayed from Friday after a new Russian module at the International Space Station began firing its engines unprompted causing the space station to roll and lose its correct positioning in space.

Initially, NASA managers said the station only shifted about 45 degrees before it was stabilized but on Tuesday the agency later clarified that the ISS actually maneuvered about 540 degrees, essentially turning one and a half times over.

“Further analysis showed total attitude change before regaining normal attitude control was ~540°. Station is in good shape & operating normally,” NASA said in a tweet.

This will be the second time Boeing attempts the OFT for Starliner as it works to certify the spacecraft to fly NASA astronauts as part of the agency’s commercial crew program. The uncrewed test flight will test Starliner’s end-to-end capabilities to launch and dock at the International Space Station before returning to Earth for landing in New Mexico.

If the test goes well, the next time Starliner launches to space there will be three NASA astronauts onboard and the U.S. space agency will have two commercial rides for humans to space. SpaceX has successfully delivered three crews of astronauts to the ISS since last summer, also as part of the commercial crew program.

Check back for updates and stay with ClickOrlando.com for updates on the new launch date and time.