Updated with an additional statement from Boeing regarding the Starliner spacecraft being rolled back into the Vertical Integration Facility for inspection.
The much anticipated second uncrewed demonstration mission of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft has been delayed after a fault was discovered just hours before launch.
In an August 3 statement, NASA revealed that Boeing’s Starliner Orbital Flight Test 2 (OFT-2) demonstration mission had been scrubbed due to unexpected valve position indications in the spacecraft’s propulsion system. The issue was first identified during checkouts of the spacecraft after lightning strikes in the vicinity of the launch pad.
A Boeing statement following the scrubbing expressed disappointment that the launch was again delayed and gave the industry-favourite “space is hard” explanation for the incident.
“Human spaceflight is a complex, precise and unforgiving endeavor, and Boeing and NASA teams will take the time they need to ensure the safety and integrity of the spacecraft and the achievement of our mission objectives.”
There had been a backup launch window available on August 4 at 16:57 UTC. However, late Tuesday Boeing announced that it would be standing down from the August 4 launch date. The spacecraft and its Atlas V launch vehicle have since been rolled back to the Vertical Assembly Building to allow teams to continue to investigate the fault.
According to Boeing, engineers have already cycled the Service Module’s propulsion system and ruled out a number of potential causes, including software. It is currently unclear how long it will take to diagnose the problem with Boeing commercial crew program manager John Vollmer simply stating that they would “let the data lead.” The team will, however, be on the clock.
The SpaceX CRS-23 International Space Station resupply mission is slated to launch in late August. If the Boeing Starliner team are unable to clear the spacecraft for launch, the mission will have to make way for the resupply mission pushing its launch into September at the earliest.
The launch of OFT-2 has already been pushed by several months. Although some of the delays stem from Boeing itself, traffic at both Cape Canaveral and the International Space Station has precluded the launch of a demonstration mission.
This latest delay is the second in less than a week. On July 29, a fault with a new Russian space station module resulted in NASA officials pushing the launch of OFT-2 to give teams time to investigate the incident.