Boeing is returning the CST-100 Starliner to the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) so it can figure out what caused the spacecraft to miss the launch planned for August 3.
Starliner was supposed to be launched to the International Space Station (ISS) atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, but Boeing said its engineers “detected unexpected valve position indications in the propulsion system” during pre-launch preparations, so the mission was delayed.
Boeing initially said it was exploring a possible launch on August 4, but as of August 12, the company said that only nine of the 14 affected valves were “open and functioning normally after the application of electrical and thermal techniques to prompt and command them open.”
The company then decided to destack Starliner from the Atlas V rocket so it could return the capsule to C3PF “for deeper-level troubleshooting.” This decision will require it to coordinate with NASA and the United Launch Alliance on a new launch date following the issue’s resolution.
SpaceNews reported that Starliner might not make it to the ISS until 2022 due to NASA’s busy schedule. The agency has two launches scheduled for October, per the report, and Boeing will have to wait for NASA and SpaceX’s Crew-2 spacecraft to return to Earth after October 31.
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This wouldn’t be the first time Boeing’s experienced long delays. Starliner was supposed to reach the ISS with the original Orbital Flight Test (OFT) mission in December 2019, but software issues prevented it from reaching the station, and OFT-2 is now facing a months-long delay.
“Mission success in human spaceflight depends on thousands of factors coming together at the right time,” Boeing Commercial Crew Program vice president and program manager John Vollmer said in a statement. “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.”