Boeing and NASA have announced that they are calling off the planned test flight of the Starliner spacecraft, which is designed to ferry astronauts between Earth and the International Space Station. The Starliner had remained at the launch site in United Launch Alliance’s Vertical Integration Facility in hopes of a quick fix to a value issue, but now the Starliner will be moved back to a Boeing facility for further work.
Boeing intended to send the Starliner on its second orbit flight test last week, but this was called off when a valve issue was discovered. Initially, Boeing engineers said they still hoped to be able to address the issue and launch the capsule within the month of August, but subsequent work was unable to completely fix the problem.
Now, Boeing has announced it does not plan to launch during August, with the launch date being delayed indefinitely until the problem can be solved. This is a blow not only for the company but also for NASA, which is working with Boeing on the development of the capsule under the Commercial Crew Program. Under the same program, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule was successfully tested and put into use last year, but Boeing’s spacecraft has lagged behind. In a statement, NASA emphasized the focus on the safety of the astronauts who will eventually fly in the Starliner over sticking to a set timetable.
“We made a lot of progress to open the valves from inside the Vertical Integration Facility, and the NASA-Boeing teams did a great job doing everything we could to get ready for this launch opportunity,” said Kathryn Lueders, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “Although we wanted to see Starliner fly in this window, it’s critical that our primary focus is the safety of the crew transportation system — for the safety of the space station and the crew members that will be flying on these vehicles. We’ll only fly this test when we think we are ready and can complete the mission objectives.”
The development of the Starliner has been undeniably bumpy, beset by many delays, problems with testing procedures, and an unsuccessful first orbital test flight in 2019. Now, it looks like the problems will continue for some time yet.
“Mission success in human spaceflight depends on thousands of factors coming together at the right time,” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager of Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program. “We’ll continue to work the issue from the Starliner factory and have decided to stand down for this launch window to make way for other national priority missions.”