Boeing’s First Crewed Starliner Launch Delayed Over Valve Issue

Boeing’s First Crewed Starliner Launch Delayed Over Valve Issue

NASA and Boeing were forced to stand down from a launch attempt of the Starliner spacecraft on Monday due to a faulty valve that ground teams discovered just hours before liftoff.

Starliner’s Crew Flight Test is now scheduled for launch on Friday, May 10, pending the resolution of the recently discovered anomaly, NASA announced in a news conference held on Monday night. To be clear, this is an issue with Centaur rocket, and not with the Starliner capsule itself.

For its test flight, the crew capsule was fitted atop United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket, to carry NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams to the International Space Station (ISS) and back. A few hours before its scheduled liftoff on Monday, ULA announced that the launch had been scrubbed “due to an observation on a liquid oxygen self-regulating solenoid relief valve on the Centaur upper stage.” The valve regulates the flow and pressure of liquid oxygen in the rocket’s upper stage. It employs a solenoid—a kind of electromagnet—to open and close as necessary, ensuring the safe release of excess pressure.

Following the scrub, astronauts Wilmore and Williams exited the Starliner spacecraft and launch pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, and returned to the astronaut crew quarters at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft can’t catch a break. The Crewed Flight Test is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and is meant to transport crew and cargo to and from the ISS under a $4.3 billion contract with the space agency. NASA’s other commercial partner, SpaceX, just launched its eighth crew to the space station and Boeing is still at zero.

Related article: Let’s Look Back at Boeing’s 10-Year Struggle to Launch Humans on Starliner

The program has suffered from a slew of problems and delays, including a botched uncrewed test flight in 2019. Boeing’s crewed Starliner launch was initially set for February 2023, then postponed to late April, and finally rescheduled for July 21, 2023. A few weeks before liftoff, however, the company announced that it was standing down from the launch attempt to address newfound issues with the crew vehicle, including a mile’s worth of flammable tape that had to be manually removed.

Monday’s scrubbed launch is just the latest in a series of technical failures that’s plagued this program from the start, although it wasn’t Boeing that fumbled the ball this time. And that said, ULA’s Centaur is an exceptionally reliable rocket, making this delay particularly surprising. But now there’s even more anticipation building up for Friday’s launch given that the first attempt was a no-go.

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