NASA and Boeing officials held a press conference on Thursday to announce the postponement of the Starliner’s first crewed voyage to the International Space Station, which had been slated for July 21.
The Starliner test flight for NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore might be delayed by months. The decision was made after more issues with the Boeing spacecraft’s parachutes and flammable tape covering its internal wiring were identified by engineers.
The technological difficulties are the most recent in a long line of problems that have delayed an astronaut’s flight in the capsule for years.
NASA presently uses Elon Musk’s SpaceX to transport astronauts to and from the space station. Eight people have been transported by SpaceX to the space station since May 2020, when the company sent its first human into orbit aboard the human Dragon vehicle.
NASA, however, has commissioned Boeing to construct a second capsule in case the first one fails.
Once upon a time, NASA used the space shuttle to transport humans to and from space. After the retirement of such vehicles in 2011, the NASA was forced to depend on Russian Soyuz spacecraft for over ten years.
To regain independence, NASA established the Commercial Crew programme, which contracts with commercial businesses to develop spacecraft capable of transporting humans on NASA missions. Unlike the space shuttles, which NASA owned entirely, this time around NASA would be a paying client, renting flights from the respective firms.
Two unmanned trips to space have already been completed by Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft. In December of 2019, a test flight was scheduled to take place before a crewed mission. NASA called it a “high-visibility close-call” due to a series of software failures in orbit that almost derailed the trip.
In May of 2022, a second unmanned flight went off with far better results. However, the initial date for this event was August of 2021. The Starliner had to be pulled off the launchpad and transported back to the manufacturer because jammed valves in the propulsion system had been discovered by engineers.
Boeing has lost an estimated $883 million on the plane until October 2022 due to technical issues.
But the firm said it was still committed to building Starliner.
According to Mr Stich, a visit from the Starliner to the space station this autumn is doable, but only if the issues with the parachutes and wiring can be fixed promptly.
The Starliner spacecraft softly touches down after re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, thanks to the assistance of three parachutes. Engineers found that if just two of the three parachutes released correctly, the capsule’s weight would be too much for some sections of the cables connecting the spacecraft to the parachutes. In a statement, Boeing said it planned to do parachute testing before attempting another launch.
The issue with Starliner’s wiring is the miles of tape covering its internal connections. It’s possible that the tape adhesive might catch fire in certain conditions. Mr. Nappi said that engineers were thinking of covering the tape in a different material in high-risk places.