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A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft onboard is seen on the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft onboard is seen on the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41. (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Boeing’s Starliner can’t catch a break.

Tuesday was supposed to be a chance for the embattled company to show the world what it’s been working on for the past 18 months since its first failed attempt to launch a gumdrop-shaped capsule to the International Space Station.

Well, that’s not happening. At least not for now.

“We’re confirming today’s #Starliner Orbital Flight Test-2 launch is scrubbed,” Boeing said in a tweet. The delay stems from “unexpected valve position indications in the Starliner propulsion system,” NASA said in a blog post.

It’s unclear whether the issue is with Starliner or its corresponding Atlas V rocket developed by the United Launch Alliance (ULA). However ULA “will begin removing propellant from the Atlas V rocket” in a bid to address the problem, NASA says.

The next available launch opportunity is Wednesday, Aug. 4, at 12:57 p.m. It’s unclear if the valve issue will be fixed in time to restart the mission by then. It’s also unclear if there’s another proposed date beyond Wednesday.

“We’re disappointed with today’s outcome and the need to reschedule our Starliner launch,” John Vollmer, vice president and program manager for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program, said in a statement. “Human spaceflight is a complex, precise and unforgiving endeavor, and Boeing and NASA teams will take the time they need to ensure the safety and integrity of the spacecraft and the achievement of our mission objectives.”

Boeing was hoping to kick off Orbital Flight Test 2 at 1:20 p.m. Tuesday. The capsule and rocket were poised to blast off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The area is known for sudden changes in weather, but conditions looked promising for Tuesday.

An hour before the launch cancellation was announced, ULA said weather in the area “are acceptable with no threat of lightning for the Blue Team’s entrance into the launchpad and for their work.”

The scrubbed launch attempt comes just days after a Russian lab module, Nauka, caused chaos at the space station, delaying Starliner’s previous relaunch date set for Friday. The Russian module unexpectedly fired its thrusters, which tilted the space station 45 degrees outside its typical orientation.

NASA pushed back Boeing’s launch to investigate.

The Starliner mission is supposed to be a demonstration flight to show NASA that the unmanned capsule is ready to later transport humans to and from the space station. It’s unclear when this will happen. Boeing previously said it hopes to transport human astronauts later this year.

Starliner now sits perched atop its corresponding rocket at the launch site adjacent to Kennedy’s Space Center having entered the four-hour countdown phase after crews fueled it for liftoff. This would be the point when astronauts would board during future missions.

Boeing and Starliner have had a rocky past. The aerospace behemoth flubbed its first try at getting the capsule into space in 2019. Liftoff was successful, however, a software issue soon after sent the capsule into the wrong orbit and forced Boeing to call it back home.

Since then, Boeing has spent at least $410 million dollars to make software corrections. NASA also played a more hands-on role to get the space taxi up to snuff.

Upon its eventual liftoff, Starliner will take a day-long trip to the space station carrying cargo and supplies for NASA. It will then return back to Earth to prepare for future missions if things go according to play.

Tuesday’s flight would have been the 145th mission for United Launch Alliance and the 88th Atlas V launch. It would have also given Boeing a better chance at catching up with SpaceX, NASA’s other commercial crew partner, which has already sent three manned missions to space.

NASA wants the two companies to give the space agency more affordable options to reach Earth’s lower orbit.

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