Launch of Boeing’s Starliner Delayed Indefinitely Due to Vexing Technical Glitch

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Gizmodo 04 August, 2021 - 11:40am 47 views

Starliner delayed again, and its launch window may close soon

Daily Mail 04 August, 2021 - 03:21pm

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For a week leading up to the much-anticipated launch of Boeing's Starliner test flight on Tuesday, officials with NASA and the aerospace company said the spacecraft and its Atlas V rocket were ready to go. Their big concern, they said, was weather—with frequent afternoon thunderstorms along Florida's east coast.

On Tuesday morning, a few hours before the launch window opened, weather conditions along the coast looked pretty good. But Boeing had to scrub the launch attempt anyway, citing a problem with a valve in the spacecraft's reaction control system, which helps the vehicle maneuver in space.

Boeing and NASA engineers then spent Tuesday afternoon attempting to determine the cause of "unexpected valve position indications" within the spacecraft's propulsion system. Presumably, they were trying to determine whether these valves were actually in the wrong position in reality, or if the indications were due to some sort of errant sensor reading.

On Tuesday evening, the engineers were unable to reach a conclusion, and Boeing said it was canceling a potential launch attempt for Wednesday. In a statement, the company declined to say when it was targeting for its next attempt and said it needed more time to investigate the issue.

“We’re going to let the data lead our work,” said Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program vice president and program manager John Vollmer. “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.”

Although the next opportunity after Wednesday to launch Starliner comes this weekend on August 7 and 8, sources indicated to Ars that the spacecraft may have difficulty making that launch window. The company's engineers will probably need more than a day or two to work the issues.

Starliner does not have an infinite launch window, however. The first conflict comes late this month, when SpaceX's CRS-23 International Space Station supply mission is due to launch on August 28. There are only two docking ports available for these kinds of missions on the station. Presently, one is occupied by a Crew Dragon, and the CRS-23 Cargo Dragon will occupy the second port. If NASA holds to a late August launch of CRS-23, Boeing's Starliner would need to launch by around August 20 in order to have enough time to get to the station and depart before Cargo Dragon arrives.

On NASA's current schedule, CRS-23 will undock from the space station on September 30, opening a port for Starliner during the month of October. But there's another complication: NASA has a high-priority science mission, Lucy, with a 21-day launch window opening in mid-October. That mission will also fly on an Atlas V rocket.

United Launch Alliance requires a minimum of two or three weeks for final preparations of an Atlas V launch, so even if Starliner launched on October 1, it would likely eat up some time from Lucy's launch window. Giving up a chunk of that would be risky for the asteroid mission, which faces a delay into 2022 if it misses its window. It seems probable that NASA would prioritize the Lucy mission over Starliner's test flight.

The bottom line is that for Boeing, NASA, and United Launch Alliance, it's really important to try to get Starliner off the pad before mid-August, or the mission could face lengthy delays.

Already, 19.5 months have passed since an initial test flight of Starliner ended in a "high visibility close call" during which the vehicle was almost lost both shortly after launch and shortly before reentering the atmosphere. This caused NASA to initiate an investigation into Boeing's safety culture and demand a major revamping of Boeing's flight software. Boeing also agreed to pay for a second test flight, at a cost of $410 million, out of its own resources.

After a lot of effort, Boeing finally returned to the pad this week. With Tuesday's scrubbed launch, though, the rocket and spacecraft will now roll back to an integration hangar for further troubleshooting.

Starliner delayed again, and its launch window may close soon

TechCrunch 04 August, 2021 - 03:21pm

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For a week leading up to the much-anticipated launch of Boeing's Starliner test flight on Tuesday, officials with NASA and the aerospace company said the spacecraft and its Atlas V rocket were ready to go. Their big concern, they said, was weather—with frequent afternoon thunderstorms along Florida's east coast.

On Tuesday morning, a few hours before the launch window opened, weather conditions along the coast looked pretty good. But Boeing had to scrub the launch attempt anyway, citing a problem with a valve in the spacecraft's reaction control system, which helps the vehicle maneuver in space.

Boeing and NASA engineers then spent Tuesday afternoon attempting to determine the cause of "unexpected valve position indications" within the spacecraft's propulsion system. Presumably, they were trying to determine whether these valves were actually in the wrong position in reality, or if the indications were due to some sort of errant sensor reading.

On Tuesday evening, the engineers were unable to reach a conclusion, and Boeing said it was canceling a potential launch attempt for Wednesday. In a statement, the company declined to say when it was targeting for its next attempt and said it needed more time to investigate the issue.

“We’re going to let the data lead our work,” said Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program vice president and program manager John Vollmer. “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.”

Although the next opportunity after Wednesday to launch Starliner comes this weekend on August 7 and 8, sources indicated to Ars that the spacecraft may have difficulty making that launch window. The company's engineers will probably need more than a day or two to work the issues.

Starliner does not have an infinite launch window, however. The first conflict comes late this month, when SpaceX's CRS-23 International Space Station supply mission is due to launch on August 28. There are only two docking ports available for these kinds of missions on the station. Presently, one is occupied by a Crew Dragon, and the CRS-23 Cargo Dragon will occupy the second port. If NASA holds to a late August launch of CRS-23, Boeing's Starliner would need to launch by around August 20 in order to have enough time to get to the station and depart before Cargo Dragon arrives.

On NASA's current schedule, CRS-23 will undock from the space station on September 30, opening a port for Starliner during the month of October. But there's another complication: NASA has a high-priority science mission, Lucy, with a 21-day launch window opening in mid-October. That mission will also fly on an Atlas V rocket.

United Launch Alliance requires a minimum of two or three weeks for final preparations of an Atlas V launch, so even if Starliner launched on October 1, it would likely eat up some time from Lucy's launch window. Giving up a chunk of that would be risky for the asteroid mission, which faces a delay into 2022 if it misses its window. It seems probable that NASA would prioritize the Lucy mission over Starliner's test flight.

The bottom line is that for Boeing, NASA, and United Launch Alliance, it's really important to try to get Starliner off the pad before mid-August, or the mission could face lengthy delays.

Already, 19.5 months have passed since an initial test flight of Starliner ended in a "high visibility close call" during which the vehicle was almost lost both shortly after launch and shortly before reentering the atmosphere. This caused NASA to initiate an investigation into Boeing's safety culture and demand a major revamping of Boeing's flight software. Boeing also agreed to pay for a second test flight, at a cost of $410 million, out of its own resources.

After a lot of effort, Boeing finally returned to the pad this week. With Tuesday's scrubbed launch, though, the rocket and spacecraft will now roll back to an integration hangar for further troubleshooting.

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Boeing's troubled Starliner launch scrubbed, with no new date given

Sky News 04 August, 2021 - 10:09am

The resupply mission was intended to demonstrate that the spacecraft works, but instead the delay will pile the pressure on the embattled company following the failure of its previous launch attempt and the successes of rival SpaceX.

Starliner's first orbital test in 2019 ended with the capsule failing to rendezvous with the ISS due to a software problem, although it successfully landed back on Earth two days later.

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It follows a successful SpaceX launch for NASA back in May 2020 which saw astronauts travel into space from US soil for the first time since the space shuttle programme was retired.

Both the SpaceX mission and Boeing's test of the Starliner capsule are being undertaken as part of NASA's commercial crew programme, enlisting private companies to enable the space agency to send astronauts to the ISS.

In a statement Boeing said it is "working to understand the source of the unexpected valve position indications in the propulsion system".

It follows the postponement of an earlier launch date for Starliner's second mission back in March.

The new issue was detected during a check after electrical storms passed over the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral in Florida - America's primary launch site due to its proximity to the ocean and the speed boost rockets receive from the rotation of the Earth.

Engineering teams have "ruled out a number of potential causes, including software," said Boeing, but the additional time needed to complete the checks has meant that the target launch date has been scrubbed.

"We're going to let the data lead our work," said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager for Boeing's Commercial Crew Program.

"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."

As a result of the failure in 2019, Boeing asked to attempt a second mission with NASA and will be paying the entire cost of the supply run - an estimated $410m (£297m).

Following the end of the Space Shuttle programme in 2011, NASA has depended entirely on Russia's space agency Roscosmos to send its astronauts to the ISS.

In addition to supplies and equipment, also travelling on the Starliner capsule will be a dummy named Rosie the Rocketeer, strapped in the commander’s seat with the aim of maintaining the spacecraft's centre of gravity.

Rosie will be dressed in Boeing’s bright blue spacesuit, the same one astronauts will wear when they are flying on the Starliner.

NASA has already selected the first two groups of astronauts who will travel to the International Space Station on the Starliner when it is cleared for operation.

Mike Fincke, Nicole Mann and Barry "Butch" Wilmore are set to become the first astronauts to take part in the Crew Flight Test mission, essentially a demonstration proving Boeing's ability to take astronauts to the ISS and bring them back safely.

After that test flight, astronauts Sunita Williams, Josh Cassada and Jeanette Epps will form the crew for Boeing's first-ever operational crewed mission to the ISS.

Boeing’s Starliner flight was postponed. What happens now?

Fox Business 04 August, 2021 - 07:17am

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Starliner capsules are hoping to carry astronauts to space and back by the end of the year; Phil Keating reports from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

When Boeing Co. will attempt to launch its Starliner space taxi to the International Space Station remains unclear after its engineers detected a problem with valves on a propulsion system on the vehicle.

The launch of the aerospace giant’s Starliner capsule was scheduled for Aug. 3, but officials decided to postpone the flight because some valves on a Starliner propulsion system weren’t properly configured, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Officials had said they could try to fly the vehicle to the space station on Aug. 4, but later nixed that possibility, saying engineers needed time to assess what happened with the valves.

The CST-100 Starliner was slated to deliver more than 400 pounds of NASA cargo and crew supplies, and bring back material including oxygen tanks. A mannequin named Rosie the Rocketeer was also expected to be on board.

NASA plans to live stream the Starliner launch from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida when the flight occurs.

NASA has said the Starliner mission is expected to run five to 10 days in all. The Starliner is expected to return to Earth at a facility in the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The flight was postponed because of an issue with some valves in a vehicle’s propulsion system, the company and NASA said.

Boeing said its engineers conducting prelaunch checks of the Starliner initially detected the issue after electrical storms on Monday near the launch site.

Boeing and NASA have completed multiple reviews and tests ahead of the latest launch. Working under a fixed-price contract with NASA, Boeing took a $410 million charge to pay for the second test mission, and will ferry the cargo to and from the space station for free.

Before the Starliner can carry astronauts to the space station, Boeing needs to complete the test flight without crew members on board. A second Starliner capsule has been meant to carry astronauts to the space station as early as November, if the testing goes as planned and NASA certifies the Starliner. The reusable spacecraft is designed to fly 10 times and can be refurbished in six months.

Boeing is one of the world’s largest space companies, with analysts estimating annual revenue of around $6 billion from the business last year. It has already helped refurbish the International Space Station this year and builds a range of satellites.

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