Boeing announced August 9 that it had repaired functionality to seven of 13 values in Starliner’s propulsion system that did not open as designed during prelaunch system checks.
In a short announcement on the aerospace giant’s Starliner Updates blog, Boeing revealed that 13 valves in the propulsion system of a Starliner spacecraft had been stuck shut as the vehicle was prepared for launch. Although largely speculated, the exact number had been kept from the public until now.
The fault was detected during checkouts after an electrical storm passed over the Kennedy Space Center. Boeing has not revealed if the storm had something to do with the valves failing to open when they were expected to do so. Either way, it seems to indicate that there is an underlying issue with the vehicle.
Over the last week following the scrubbed August 3 launch, teams have been employing “mechanical, electrical and thermal techniques to prompt the valves open.” Although it is not known precisely what this entails, it likely amounts to hitting it with a hammer and/or blasting it with a blowtorch.
The teams have managed to force open seven of the 13 stuck valves. According to Boeing, the unstuck valves are now “operating as designed.” The company is proceeding with efforts to open the remaining valves, demonstrate repeatable system performance, and verify the root cause of the fault, which Boeing has, as of writing, kept to itself.
According to Boeing, it is working with NASA to access multiple launch opportunities of Starliner’s second uncrewed demonstration flight in August. However, with the launch of the SpaceX CRS-23 International Space Station resupply mission on August 28 taking precedence, the flight could well slip into September.