NASA reorients Boeing Starliner launch to June 1

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NASA has carved out more time to analyze problems with its attempt to send astronauts on Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, which is now targeting June 1 if mission managers give the go-ahead for the launch.

However, the new date announced at the end of May 22 is just a placeholder, as NASA has not yet approved the problems encountered during a launch attempt earlier this month. If NASA gives the go-ahead, the crew flight test mission would target a 12:25 p.m. liftoff with backup options on June 2, 5, and 6.

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams would reboard the Starliner spacecraft atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The goal is to test the spacecraft by flying with humans on board for the first time. time as it docks with the International Space Station for a stay of about eight days before a return trip to Earth and will land in the desert of the western United States.

The pair had prepared and arrived two hours after launch on May 6, but a flapping valve in the ULA rocket’s upper stage forced the launch attempt to be aborted and mission managers decided to roll the rocket back. to the nearby ULA Vertical Integration Facility. to replace the valve.

A second problem that was discovered on May 6, but was not considered dangerous enough to cancel the launch at that time, has since been the reason for a series of delays to the planned launch date.

The service module that provides propulsion to the Starliner has a small helium leak, coming from a flange on one of the reaction control system thrusters inside one of the four engine compartments.

“Work continues to evaluate Starliner’s performance and redundancy following the discovery (of the leak),” NASA said in a news release. “As part of this work, and unrelated to the current leak that remains stable, teams are in the process of completing a follow-up propulsion system assessment to understand the potential impacts of the helium system in some Starliner return scenarios. “.

The helium leak and ULA valve issue will be discussed during an upcoming “Delta Agency Flight Test Readiness Review” among all launch partners.

“There has been a great deal of exceptional analysis and testing over the past two weeks by the joint NASA, Boeing and ULA teams to replace the Centaur self-regulating valve and address the Starliner service module helium manifold leak.”

“It has been important that we take our time to understand all the complexities of each issue, including the redundant capabilities of the Starliner propulsion system and any implications for our Interim Human Qualification Certification,” said NASA Commercial Crew Program manager , Steve Stich.

The CFT mission is Boeing’s attempt to join SpaceX’s Crew Dragon as one of two US-based providers for ferry service to and from the International Space Station.

Wilmore and Williams remain in Houston in quarantine working on Starliner simulators, but will fly back to Kennedy Space Center after flight readiness review if mission managers deem it safe to fly.

“We will launch Butch and Suni on this test mission after the entire community has reviewed the team’s progress and the rationale for the flight,” Stich said.

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