HomeTop StoriesThe first piloted flight of the oft-delayed Boeing Starliner spacecraft is slipping...

The first piloted flight of the oft-delayed Boeing Starliner spacecraft is slipping to at least March

Boeing’s first piloted launch often delayed Starliner crew capsule pushed back to March at the earliest due to ongoing work to test and replace the capsule’s parachute system and to troubleshoot a flammable adhesive used in protective electrical tape, officials said Monday.

“The parachutes will drive readiness for potential launch dates,” said Mark Nappi, Boeing’s Starliner program manager. “And right now, based on current plans, we expect to be done with the spacecraft in early March. That doesn’t mean we have a launch date in early March. That means we’ll be done with the spacecraft then.”

Before determining when the Crew Flight Test, or CFT, mission can actually fly, Boeing, NASA and United Launch Alliance, builder of the Atlas 5 rocket needed to launch the Starliner, will need to review space station crew and cargo schedule, booster availability. and other factors.

A Starliner capsule and its service module during processing in Boeing’s assembly hangar at Kennedy Space Center for an earlier unpiloted test flight (file photo).


“What I know everyone would like is (a) launch date,” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “The vehicle will be ready in the March time frame. … March is typically the month when the Russians will be exchanging their Soyuz spacecraft and crews. We need to look at that and other cargo flights after that. Mark and his team have to deal with ULA going to work, and that’s when we can set a specific launch date.”

Assuming the CFT mission can fly in March or April and no other major issues arise, Boeing could be certified to begin operational space station crew rotation missions by the end of 2024. After certification, NASA plans to launch a Crew Dragon and a Starliner to the space station every year until the end of the ISS program in 2030.

“Our plan all along has been to have two different, unique and diverse space transportation systems,” Stich said. “We are working hard to get that done. Once we do that, get Boeing through the Crew Flight Test and then get through the certification work, the plan would be to fly one Boeing flight and then one SpaceX flight for our crew rotations per year.”

Despite the late start and high cost of the delays, Nappi said Boeing remains committed to the Starliner.

“There really is no reason to change our plans,” he said. “We bought hardware for the six flights plus the CFT, it still fits well into the window we have. Additional flights are available beyond those six with other customers. We are still committed.”

The Starliner has had a rocky history, which is surprising to many because of Boeing’s long history as a leader in human spaceflight. The company built the first stage of the legendary Saturn 5 lunar rocket and its successor, the more powerful Space Launch System rocket, and serves as the prime contractor for the International Space Station.

In 2014, NASA awarded contracts totaling $6.8 billion to Boeing and SpaceX to build commercial crew ships that could transport astronauts from NASA and partners to and from the space station in the wake of the space shuttle’s retirement. The contracts covered a maximum of six flights per carrier, plus one crewed and one uncrewed test flight.

Under an initial $2.6 billion contract, SpaceX designed a manned version of its Dragon freighter to be launched into orbit by the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. Boeing’s capsule – Starliner – was built under a $4.2 billion contract and relied on the Atlas 5 for the journey to space.

A glimpse of the complexity under the skin of the Starliner spacecraft (file photo).

William Harwood/CBS News

After a successful uncrewed test flight, SpaceX launched a two-man crew to the space station in May 2020 for the first piloted test flight. The company has now launched 10 piloted Crew Dragon missions, seven for NASA and three privately funded flights, carrying 38 astronauts, cosmonauts and civilians into orbit.

The Starliner has completed only two uncrewed missions. A first test flight in December 2019 was marred by major software issues that prevented rendezvous and docking with the International Space Station.

Then, for a second unmanned test flight to make sure the previous problems had been rectified, engineers ran into it problems with corroded valves of the propulsion system in the service module of the capsule. That delayed the flight to May 2022.

The second test flight went well, and the Starliner robotically docked with the space station as planned and returned safely to a parachute-assisted landing in Utah. At the time, NASA was aiming for a pilot launch late last year.

But additional analysis and assessment pushed the flight to 2023, and last April the launch was pushed back to no earlier than July 21 to give engineers more time to review paperwork and analysis and conduct more testing. That work was almost complete when the parachute and wiring problems surfaced.

An analysis of previous tests showed that the “soft links” connecting the parachute guylines to a harness on the spacecraft were not as strong as required. The design specification was a safety factor of two, meaning they would operate safely even when exposed to twice the force that would ever be experienced in flight. It turned out that the tests were flawed and that soft links did not have the required safety factor.

Boeing has now opted to replace the softlinks with an upgraded version and proceed to install an upgraded parachute system that was intended to be added after the CFT mission. The parachute changes require a “drop test” in November to ensure the system performs as expected. If all goes well, the flight parachutes will be delivered to Boeing in December.

As for the protective tape, Nappi said the purpose was to prevent electrical cables from being snaked through the spacecraft. It is secured with an adhesive that poses a potential fire risk under certain circumstances.

While the test data is inconsistent, he said engineers are playing it safe by removing tape where possible, in some cases installing barriers and leaving them intact in areas where the risk is minimal to nonexistent.

“We’re going to do the right thing regarding vehicle safety,” Nappi said. “That’s the first and foremost thing in any discussion we have. And if it turns out that the answer is to do B, because that’s the safest thing for the vehicle, that’s what we do.

“That’s been the approach all along. … It’s not strange to our management team at Boeing. It’s the way we do business in human spaceflight. That’s the approach we’ve taken, and I would never question that. “

See also  How 'Rare Beauty' is committed to supporting mental health
- Advertisement -


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

Recent Comments