Boeing's Starliner capsule corroded due to high humidity levels, NASA explains, and the spaceship won't fly this year
Meanwhile Elon's running orbital tourist trips and ISS crew missions
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule, designed to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, will not fly until the first half of next year at the earliest, as the manufacturing giant continues to tackle an issue with the spacecraft’s valves.
Things have not gone smoothly for Boeing. Its Starliner program has suffered numerous setbacks and delays. Just in August, a second unmanned test flight was scrapped after 13 of 24 valves in the spacecraft’s propulsion system jammed. In a briefing this week, Michelle Parker, chief engineer of space and launch at Boeing, shed more light on the errant components.
Boeing believes the valves malfunctioned due to weather issues, we were told. Florida, home to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center where the Starliner is being assembled and tested, is known for hot, humid summers. Parker explained that the chemicals from the spacecraft’s oxidizer reacted with water condensation inside the valves to form nitric acid. The acidity corroded the valves, causing them to stick.
Engineers managed to free nine out of 13 faulty valves, but four remained stuck. The capsule was returned to the factory and two valves have been removed and handed to NASA for further analysis, with a third on the way. Boeing said will not resume flight tests of its CST-100 Starliner module until the first half of next year.
NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, who were expected to fly aboard Boeing's first official crewed flight for its Starliner-1 mission, will now hitch a ride to the ISS as part of Crew-5, a SpaceX mission in the second half of 2022.
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“NASA decided it was important to make these reassignments to allow Boeing time to complete the development of Starliner," the US agency previously said, "while continuing plans for astronauts to gain spaceflight experience for the future needs of the agency’s missions."
Veteran astronauts Butch Wilmore and Mike Fincke have still been assigned to fly on Starliner. An official date hasn't been set for their launch and this will depend on whether Boeing has managed to fix its valve issue and has successfully pulled off an uncrewed orbital test flight and other NASA-mandated checks. ®