Boeing’s Starliner to go back to factory for repairs, probably causing another major delay for troubled program
Boeing said Friday that it will remove its Starliner spacecraft from atop of a rocket to fix valves that have remained stuck, a decision that will probably force yet another months-long delay in its do-over of a test flight without astronauts aboard.
Boeing engineers have been trying since Aug. 3 to fix the problem, one in a series of significant issues that have plagued its spacecraft program for years. Boeing had been hoping to restore functionality to the valves and get a launch off to the International Space Station this month under its contract with NASA.
But the decision to move the spacecraft into a processing facility means the issue is a troublesome one, and because of other missions to the space station will probably mean that the launch will not go off until next year.
Boeing had been hoping to fly the spacecraft to the space station after a botched first attempt in December 2019, when Starliner suffered a major software breakdown that forced controllers on the ground to end the mission before the spacecraft could dock with the station.
After 18 months, the spacecraft was finally mounted on top of an Atlas V rocket and rolled out to the launchpad at Cape Canaveral for what Boeing hoped would be a triumphant return to flight.
But hours before the scheduled launch Aug. 3, Boeing engineers discovered that 13 valves in the service module’s propulsion system were stuck in the closed position when they should have been open. Crews scrambled to fix the problem and moved the spacecraft and rocket to a nearby assembly building, where technicians were able to reopen nine.
The company had held out hope that it would be able to get the launch off this month but on Friday conceded that it would not be possible.
“Mission success in human spaceflight depends on thousands of factors coming together at the right time,” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program. “We’ll continue to work the issue from the Starliner factory and have decided to stand down for this launch window to make way for other national priority missions.”