Cape Canaveral, Florida (AP) — Boeing astronaut capsules have been grounded for months, and in some cases until next year, due to valve issues.
Boeing and NASA officials said Friday that the Starliner capsule would be removed from the top of the rocket and returned to the Kennedy Space Center hangar for more extensive repairs.
Starliner was ready to explode on repeated test flights to the International Space Station last week when the problem broke out — he has a mannequin, but an astronaut does not. Similar capsules suffered from software issues in 2019, making them inaccessible to the space station.
John Volmer, vice president and program manager of the Boeing Commercial Crew Program, said: “I will skip this test when I am ready to skip it. I can fly safely.”
“This is another example of why these demonstration missions are so important to us … the system before deploying the crew,” said Kathy Lueders, head of NASA’s Human Exploration Office. To ensure that it works. “
Boeing’s performance is in stark contrast to NASA’s other contract taxi service, SpaceX. SpaceX will fly 10 astronauts to the space station in just one year, and four more will be installed in the company’s Dragon Capsule at the end of October. Elon Musk’s company will have another first month next month as it gets the billionaire on track with three guests, two of whom are contest winners.
Vollmer said that moisture in the air somehow penetrated the 13 valves of the capsule propulsion system. The moisture combined with corrosive fuel-burning chemicals that passed through the seal prevented the valve from opening as needed prior to the August 3 launch attempt.
As of Friday, nine valves had been fixed. The other four require more invasive work.
Rain from a heavy thunderstorm penetrated some of the pad’s capsule thrusters, but engineers don’t believe it was the same humidity that caused the valves to stick together. Engineers are trying to determine when and how moisture reached it. Vollmer said it could have been in the process of being assembled or much later.
The thirteen in question are one of the dozens of valves connected to the thrusters needed to put the capsule into proper orbit, send it to the space station, and re-enter the atmosphere at the end of the flight. According to Vollmer, all valves worked fine five weeks ago and worked well in the 2019 test flight.
Vollmer said it was too early to know if the valve needed to be replaced or redesigned. Aerojet Rocketdyne supplied the valves along with the rest of the propulsion system.
Given all the uncertainties, Vollmer hesitated to say when Starliner might be ready for the next launch attempt. Boeing needs to avoid traffic from other space stations and NASA asteroid missions scheduled to be launched by the same type of rocket from the same pad in October.
“It’s probably too early to say if it’s this year,” Volmer told reporters.
The Associated Press’s Department of Health Sciences is supported by the Department of Science Education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. AP is solely responsible for all content.