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NASA reveals new target date for first crewed Starliner launch

ULA's Atlas V rocket and Boeing Space's Starliner spacecraft on the launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
ULA’s Atlas V rocket and Boeing Space’s Starliner spacecraft on the launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA/ Joel Kowsky

NASA has announced a new target date for the first crewed flight of Boeing Space’s Starliner spaceraft.

The space agency said Wednesday that it’s now targeting no earlier no earlier than 6:16 p.m. ET on May 17 for the launch of the Atlas V rocket and Starliner spacecraft from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Starliner was supposed to launch Monday, May 9, but an issue with a valve on the upper stage of United Launch Alliance’s rocket emerged just two hours before liftoff, prompting the flight to be scrubbed. NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams had just been strapped into their seats inside the spacecraft when news came through that the mission had been called off for the day.

Teams from ULA have now rolled the Starliner and Atlas V rocket to an integration facility to replace the faulty valve on the rocket’s upper stage. Wilmore and Williams have returned to quarantine inside NASA facilities, where they’ll remain until next week’s launch attempt.

Following Monday’s scrub, NASA issued a statement offering more details about the valve problem.

“The oscillating behavior of the valve during prelaunch operations ultimately resulted in mission teams calling a launch scrub on May 6,” NASA said in the statement. “After the ground crews and astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams safely exited from Space Launch Complex-41, the ULA team successfully commanded the valve closed and the oscillations were temporarily dampened. The oscillations then re-occurred twice during fuel removal operations. After evaluating the valve history, data signatures from the launch attempt, and assessing the risks relative to continued use, the ULA team determined the valve exceeded its qualification and mission managers agreed to remove and replace the valve.”

It’s a setback for the mission team but safety has to come first, and so engineers decided out of an abundance of caution to halt the countdown clock and prepare launch for another day.

When the mission finally gets underway, Wilmore and Williams will fly to the International Space Station (ISS) and stay for about a week before returning home. The aim of the flight is to confirm the operability of the Starliner’s onboard systems so that the vehicle can be used by NASA to carry crews to and from low-Earth orbit in the same way that SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule has been doing since 2020.

The Starliner project has been delayed many times over the years as Boeing worked on a plethora of issues that emerged following the spacecraft’s first test flight in 2019 when it failed to reach the ISS. Another uncrewed test flight in 2022 saw the Starliner dock with the ISS before returning to Earth in a successful parachute landing.

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