Boeing working to overcome Starliner hardware obstacle before setting new launch date

Starliner OFT-2 launch scrubbed after hitting snag with propulsion system

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft in the ULA hangar as teams work to correct an issue detected with some of the valves in the spacecraft's propulsion system. (Image credit: Boeing) (WKMG 2021)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Boeing is assessing multiple launch dates in August to try again to send its Starliner spacecraft on a test spaceflight to the International Space Station.

The orbital flight test 2 (OFT-2) launch was scrubbed Aug. 3, hours before the ULA Atlas V rocket was set to liftoff from Cape Canaveral. Boeing said engineers monitoring the status of the spacecraft detected an unexpected valve position in the propulsion system. According to NASA, the valves connect to thrusters that enable emergency abort and maneuvering while the spacecraft is in orbit.

Since the scrub, the rocket was rolled back into the ULA hangar, where teams continue to resolve the problem.

[TRENDING: Florida averages 19,200+ daily cases as state breaks pandemic records | Parents sue DeSantis over mask mandate ban]

According to an update Monday from Boeing, the propulsion system valves did not open as designed last week during pre-launch checks. After inspecting the affected hardware, there were no signs of damage or external corrosion, according to Boeing.

Seven of the system’s 13 valves are operating normally and teams are working to get the remaining valves working as they were designed, according to the update.

Aerojet Rocketdyne, the manufacture of the valves, is also working with Boeing on the issue.

“Boeing is working a systematic plan to open the affected valves, demonstrate repeatable system performance and verify the root cause of the issue before returning Starliner to the launchpad for its Orbital Flight Test-2 mission,” the company said in a statement.

Boeing is working with ULA and NASA to determine the next launch opportunity for August. According to NASA, the earliest available launch date is in mid-August.

“In the coming days, NASA and Boeing will continue work to bring all affected valves into the proper configuration,” NASA said in an update. “If all valve functionality can be restored and root cause identified, NASA will work with Boeing to determine a path to flight for the important uncrewed mission to the space station.”

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 examine 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.

Use the form below to sign up for the space newsletter, sent every Wednesday afternoon.