CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Weeks before Boeing's first launch with NASA astronauts, new problems discovered with the Starliner spacecraft will delay the planned July liftoff, the company revealed Thursday.
NASA and Boeing managers told reporters after further examining data from the CST-100 Starliner orbital test flight (OFT) from in May 2022 they have decided to call off the July 21 launch to the International Space Station.
Boeing Starliner program manager Mark Nappi said about a week ago two new issues cropped up during an engineering review of the 2022 Starliner test flight.
The first problem discovered was with the parachutes used to slow the spacecraft for landing back on Earth. Small sections of the lines that run from Starliner to the parachutes called soft links were recently retested because Boeing engineers believed the data was recorded incorrectly, and the lines have a lower fail limit. The theory was confirmed through additional testing.
"That ended up decreasing the factor of safety pretty significantly," Nappi said.
The second concern involved tape used extensively inside the spacecraft to wrap wire harnesses on Starliner. Nappi said the tape was tested "late in the process, and it was determined to be flammable."
Nappi said teams worked to understand if Boeing could continue as planned but ultimately notified NASA on Thursday Starliner would remain grounded until the problems could be addressed.
"We have decided to stand down on preparation of the CFT mission in order to correct these problems," Nappi said.
‘Ready to roll up their sleeves’
Teams began Friday working on a plan forward for resolving the parachute and tape issues.
NASA's Commercial Crew Program Manager Steve Stitch said the agency supports Boeing's decision.
All were notified of the delay during an all-hands meeting with NASA and Boeing staff, including the astronauts. There was a little disappointment, said Stitch, but teams are ready to roll up their sleeves and solve the problems.
"Everybody on the Boeing and NASA teams has the jobs they have because they love the jobs they do, and they know how important it is for our country to put humans in space and how hard it is," Stitch said.
When the launch does happen, NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore will be the test pilots for Starliner on its first crewed trip to the ISS. United Launch Alliance will launch the Starliner for Boeing using its Atlas V rocket from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
Boeing and SpaceX were selected by NASA in 2014 to begin flying American astronauts to and from the ISS after nine years of paying Russia to launch its astronauts when the space shuttle program ended.
The May 2022 Starliner launch to the space station was the second time in orbit for the vehicle, but the first visit to the space station. A 2019 attempt to complete the OFT ended without docking at the ISS because of a computer glitch.
SpaceX is preparing its seventh astronaut mission to the ISS using the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft under the Commercial Crew Program.