Boeing's Starliner astronaut taxi has returned to its factory so engineers can fix stuck valves that were discovered recently as the company prepared to launch an uncrewed test flight for NASA.
The spacecraft was scheduled to launch on an uncrewed Orbital Flight Test 2 mission to the International Space Station on July 30 using a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. NASA and Boeing announced they would stand down from the launch attempt July 29, and with the stuck valves persisting, Starliner is undergoing what could be a lengthy fix.
Starliner is at the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the agency announced last week. Before the facility shift, engineers removed the spacecraft from the Atlas V inside the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, which is nearby Kennedy.
"The team now will perform propulsion system checkouts inside the factory’s hazardous processing area and determine the appropriate vehicle configuration for accessing and analyzing the system further," NASA stated on its commercial crew blog. "NASA and Boeing will recommend forward work as part of a formal process designed to aid in determining root cause and remediation steps."
In photos: Boeing's Starliner OFT-2 mission in pictures
A new launch date for Orbital Flight Test 2 hasn't yet been announced, as that will be pending the results of the troubleshooting, NASA said, along with figuring out the right time to launch to the ISS amid other cargo and crew launches.
It's been a long road to certify Starliner to eventually carry astronaut crews. Boeing made an attempt in December 2019 for an uncrewed flight. Starliner launched successfully, but could not reach the ISS due to a series of technical glitches.
After the Starliner splashdown, Boeing undertook a lengthy troubleshooting process with NASA, identifying and addressing dozens of problems. COVID-19 and a severe power outage in Texas added more delays in 2020 and 2021.
NASA's other commercial crew vehicle, SpaceX Crew Dragon, began running regular flights to the space station in 2020. Commercial crew is the replacement vehicle series following NASA's space shuttle, which retired in 2011 after 30 years of service. The agency used the Russian Soyuz spacecraft exclusively for astronauts until 2020 and has bought a few more Soyuz seats while waiting for Starliner to be ready.
Even after both commercial crew vehicles are operational, NASA and Russia may continue to fly each other's crew members, although that arrangement (at least as of April) is pending further discussion.
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