NASA and Boeing have put a brave face on things following the choice to send a pair of 'nauts to the ISS with SpaceX's Crew Dragon instead of Starliner, and are insisting Boeing's capsule will launch in the first half of next year.
The stacked Atlas V was hurriedly rolled back from the launch pad in August after valves associated with manoeuvring failed a pre-flight check. Engineers had a go at fixing the issue on site, but eventually decided the problem required a trip back to the factory rather than a short, sharp tap with a hammer.
With the second anniversary coming up for Starliner's first – and only – trip to space (one that was supposed to be an uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station but instead was terminated early due to a variety of cockups), NASA last week yanked two of its astronauts, Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, from missions aboard the Calamity Capsule in favour of SpaceX's Crew Dragon.
- Nothing says 'We believe in you' like NASA switching two 'nauts off Boeing's Starliner onto SpaceX's Crew Dragon
- Starliner takes off ... back to the factory and not space
- Engineers work to open Boeing Starliner's valves as schedule pressures mount
- Boeing and Rocket Lab hope for the best as both return to launchpad following failures
Boeing reckons it has got to the bottom of the valve issue and cited "oxidizer and moisture interactions" as a probable cause, having ruled out problems with avionics, wiring, and software. Extra testing and validation are still required to confirm the suspicion.
The options for Boeing include refurbishing the current service module or grabbing another already in production. The choice is dependant on the remediation needed.
Still, it sounds as though the team will have plenty of time on their hands. The problem, combined with traffic at the ISS and turnaround times for ULA's rockets, meant a 2021 launch looked highly unlikely.
The next Atlas V mission will be this week's launch of NASA's Lucy probe to the Jupiter trojan asteroids, while the ISS is expecting multiple visiting vehicles, not least the next SpaceX Crew Dragon mission, in the coming weeks. ®