NASA and Boeing have finally revealed the next possible date for the CST-100 test launch Starliner spacecraft to the International Space Station: first half of 2022.
Starliner’s next mission, the Orbital Flight Test-2, has been in the air ever since August, when a technical failure occurred 13 oxidation valves in the spacecraft propulsion system they failed to open during the countdown, forcing the space agency and company officials to cancel their plans. Valves connect to Starliner thrusters, which control interruption and in-orbit maneuvering functions.
At the time, NASA said the test would happen after launch Lucy asteroid space probe, which should go into space on Saturday, October 16. But Boeing wasn’t sure it could be performed at all this year.
In the end, Boeing seems to have been right. NASA and Boeing will analyze the potential let opportunities for next year, with the United Launch Alliance, the maker behind the Atlas V rocket that will launch Starliner, and East chain, the Space Forces entity in charge of launching the East Coast.
“NASA, Boeing, the United Launch Alliance and the East Chain are still assessing potential launch windows for OFT-2,” NASA officials wrote in blog update. “The team is currently working to create opportunities in the first half of 2022 in anticipation of hardware readiness, rocket manifesto and space station availability.”
NASA said agency and Boeing officials continue to make progress in researching oxidation valve problems. Boeing discovered that tthe most likely cause appears to be related to oxidant-moisture interactions.
“Boeing has shown success in valve functionality by applying localized heating and electric charging techniques,” NASA explained. “Solving problems on the board, at the launch complex and inside the Starliner production plant at the Kennedy Space Center resulted in the relocation of all but one of the original jammed valves. That valve was not intentionally moved to preserve forensics for direct cause analysis. ”
In the next few weeks, Boeing will conduct a test of the spacecraft and components to further analyze the possible factors that contributed to the valve failure and determine remediation.. In addition, it will remove three valves from the spacecraft for further inspection.
The company has identified different ways forward, each depending on the outcome of its tests, to prevent the problem from recurring. According to a NASA update, these solutions involve a minor overhaul of the current service module to use another module that is already in production.
Starliner, part of NASA’s program to transport astronauts to the ISS, has completed just one more twisted test flight in what seems like a long time ago. In 2019, he managed to reach space, but did not arrive on the ISS due to a software malfunction.
Currently, NASA has only two options available to send astronauts to the ISS, a Russian spacecraft and SpaceX’s Dragon crew.
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