Boeing’s OFT-2 Test Flight Still on Hold As Search Continues for What Went Wrong

Boeing’s OFT-2 Test Flight Still on Hold As Search Continues for What Went Wrong

Boeing is still trying to figure out what went wrong with the propulsion system for its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft hours before it was set to launch on its second uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2). The spacecraft and its rocket were rolled back to a protective shelter today for more intensive detective work to discover why valve indications show the wrong position.

Tuesday morning, Starliner was on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, FL atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 rocket waiting for liftoff at 1:20 pm ET. The only potential wrinkle was weather with a 50-50 forecast.

Suddenly, at 10:25 am ET, Boeing tweeted that the launch was scrubbed and shortly thereafter added “engineers detected unexpected valve position indications in the propulsion system.”

Since then, the company and NASA have been investigating what can be checked with the spacecraft still on the launch pad, with no success.

Boeing specifically said it is not a software problem. The first OFT in December 2019 did not achieve all its goals because of software errors, necessitating this re-do at Boeing’s own expense. Starliner was developed through a Public-Private Partnership between NASA and Boeing as part of the commercial crew program. It is a fixed price contract.

Boeing’s statements have referenced a severe storm at Cape Canaveral the night before launch as a possible cause of the incorrect valve indications, but today said it was “unlikely.” Still, it is checking for water or electrical damage.

Today Starliner and the Atlas V were rolled back to ULA’s Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) where more of the spacecraft will be accessible, but in the end it may be necessary to remove (“destack”) it from the rocket.

How long it will be before they can attempt the launch again depends on whether or not they can diagnose and fix the problem while the spacecraft and rocket are mated. If not, it could be days or weeks.

ULA’s Atlas V rocket is fine.

Starliner OFT-2 will demonstrate that it can dock with and undock from the International Space Station (ISS) and safely land at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

NASA has two cargo missions to ISS lined up this month: a Northrop Grumman Cygnus on August 10 and a SpaceX Cargo Dragon at end of the month. Cargo Dragon is intended to dock at the port Starliner will use so if the Starliner launch is delayed for several weeks, NASA will have to decide which has priority.

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