This time around, can Boeing’s Starliner finally shine?

enlargement – widening / Boeing says its Starliner spacecraft is ready to take off for its launch pad in Florida.

Boeing

Boeing and NASA have said the Starliner spacecraft is ready for an uncrewed flight, and a second uncrewed test mission for the spacecraft is now scheduled for May 19.

It’s been nine months since a standard pre-flight inspection of the spacecraft, then sitting atop a rocket on the launch pad in Florida, discovered that 13 of the 24 oxidizer valves inside the Starliner propulsion system were stuck. The discovery was made a few hours after takeoff.

Since then, engineers and technicians from Boeing and NASA have worked to understand exactly why the valves are off and solve the problem. They found that a dinitrogen tetroxide oxidizer loaded onto the spacecraft 46 days before launch combined with ambient moisture to form nitric acid, which started the corrosion process inside the valve’s aluminum housing.

On Tuesday, during a conference call with reporters, Boeing and NASA officials discussed the steps they have taken to mitigate the problem of Starliner’s upcoming test flight. The valves are still the same in the car, but technicians have closed off the paths through which moisture can enter the propulsion system, said Michael Parker, vice president and deputy general manager of Boeing Space and Launch. It also extracts moisture from the valves using the Starliner’s nitrogen gas and propellant as launch approaches.

With these mitigation measures in place, the Starliner will soon be stacked on top of an Atlas V rocket built by United Launch Alliance. The Starliner was scheduled to launch from the Atlas V launch complex in Florida on Wednesday, but Boeing said Operation halted due to a hydraulic leak in the United Launch Alliance powertrain.

So this is in line with Boeing’s on-and-off efforts to put the Starliner into service. The company has been working on the vehicle since at least 2010, when it was called Crew Space Transportation-100, or CST-100. Starliner made its maiden flight in December 2019, but problems arose just minutes after liftoff when the spacecraft picked up the “wrong interval” of the Atlas V launch vehicle. It also had difficulty communicating with ground stations. Flight controllers from NASA and Boeing were able to restore communications with the Starliner and help it reach orbit. However, due to the fuel consumed during these activities, Starliner was unable to complete its primary objective, demonstrating a safe docking with the International Space Station.

There were also problems during the flight back to Earth. Another software bug was discovered and fixed a few hours before the car re-entered Earth through the atmosphere, and it could have caused the thrusters to fire at the Starliner service module the wrong way. The car was about to get lost a second time.

These problems prompted NASA to announce the first test flight of the Starliner. “A High Definition Coming Call,” the start of a years-long investigation and a deep dive into the problems of the Starliner program. Boeing agreed to pay for a second test flight at a cost of $ 410 million, and eventually prepared the Orbital Flight Test-2 mission, which arrived on the platform in the summer of 2021. After that, the car had a valve problem. poster, and finally, after all that, the company has Starliner back on the podium, ready to close again.

NASA, of course, currently owns SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft to carry its astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The Crew Dragon has done five largely manned missions since mid-2020, but with tensions rising between the United States and Russia, NASA would like it to have the option of moving a second crew to reach the station.

This means that there is great interest from NASA in the second Starliner test. Success in this test flight is likely to see Boeing transport the crew to the space station for the first time in 2023.

“This is a really important step in our ongoing goal of having American transportation resources to the International Space Station,” said NASA’s Cathy Ludders, chief of manned spaceflight operations. “Strong crew services are truly important to our ongoing commitment to advancing the research, science and technology we do on the International Space Station, and are essential to achieving our exploration goals.”

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