Doubts emerge about quick fix for Starliner

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August 13, 2021
Starliner
The Boeing Starliner. Photo: Boeing

Hopes that Boeing can quickly fix problems with its ailing Starliner spacecraft appear to be fading after suggestions a fix could take several months.

The Wall Street Journal said it had been told by people familiar with the problems that the launch could be delayed because the company would likely need to take the Starliner from the launch vehicle to repair it.

There has been no official confirmation from Boeing, which had earlier said it was assessing multiple launch opportunities in August.

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However, it appeared to step back from that timeframe in its latest update.

The company said on Thursday that teams continued to work around the clock to get oxidizer valves on the Starliner’s propulsion system working.

It was also working with NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne to determine the cause of the valve issues discovered during prelaunch checks after a storm passed through the launch site.

It said nine of the previously affected 13 valves were now open and functioning normally “after the application of electrical and thermal techniques to prompt and command them open”.

Similar techniques were being applied to the four valves that remain closed.

“Over the past couple of days, our team has taken the necessary time to safely access and test the affected valves, and not let the launch window dictate our pace,” said Starliner program manager John Vollmer.

The update said Boeing would work with NASA and United Launch Alliance to confirm a new launch date when the spacecraft is ready.

The launch, intended as a test run for a crewed flight, had already been delayed after a problem with a Russian module affected the stability of the space station.

Boeing is competing with Elon Musk’s SpaceX to deliver crews to the international space station but has suffered a series of setbacks, including problems during the December 2019 maiden launch that left it unable to dock with the ISS.

SpaceX has launched three crewed missions to the orbital outpost and is expected to launch another later this year.