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Boeing is working on fixing its troubled Starliner capsule

After canceling the planned test flight of its new crew capsule, the Starliner, Boeing says it is working on fixing the issue which led to the cancellation and is hopeful that the test could go ahead this month.

Boeing had originally planned to perform its second orbital test flight of the Starliner (known as OFT-2) on Tuesday, August 3. But this launch was scrubbed and pushed back to Wednesday, August 4. This second launch was subsequently scrubbed as well, with Boeing announcing that it had discovered an issue with a propulsion pump inside the Starliner.

Boeing's Starliner capsule atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket in Cape Canaveral, Florida on Thursday, August 5.
Boeing’s Starliner capsule atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket in Cape Canaveral, Florida on Thursday, August 5. Boeing

Now, the Starliner has been returned to the United Launch Alliance’s Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) for an investigation into the problem. Troubleshooting steps include powering on the spacecraft so the investigators can send and receive commands during testing.

“Boeing is working to understand unexpected valve position indications in the Service Module propulsion system that led the company to scrub yesterday’s launch attempt early in the countdown,” the company said in a statement. “Boeing’s troubleshooting of the valves while the Starliner and Atlas V were on the launch pad has ruled out a number of potential causes, including software. The severe storm that occurred on Monday also appears to be an unlikely cause, but the team will closely inspect for water or electrical damage while the spacecraft is in the VIF.”

The testing will continue over this weekend, and Boeing says that it is looking at potential launch dates this month for the OFT-2 launch.

This is the latest in a long series of issues with the Starliner. The first attempt at an orbital flight test in December 2019 failed to reach the International Space Station as planned, and subsequent investigations revealed several serious issues along with a litany of “gaps in testing.” Boeing had hoped to put those issues aside and join SpaceX in operating flights to ferry astronauts from Earth to the space station, operating its Starliner alongside the operational Crew Dragon.

Boeing maintains that its focus is on the safety of the capsule and any future crew who may fly in it. “We’re letting the data drive our decision-making and we will not fly until our integrated teams are comfortable and confident,” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager, Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program.

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