Boeing’s Starliner can’t catch a break.
Tuesday was supposed to be a chance for the embattled company to show the world what it has been working on for the past 18 months since its first failed attempt to launch a gumdrop-shaped capsule to the International Space Station.
Well, that’s not happening. And it’s not clear when it will.
“We’re not proceeding with #Starliner launch tomorrow,” Boeing said in a tweet late Tuesday, hours after the company said it discovered an “unexpected valve” problem that stopped liftoff from occurring as scheduled early in the afternoon. Boeing engineers spent the rest of the day ruling out “a number of potential causes, including software.” However, “additional time is needed to complete the assessment,” the aerospace giant said.
“We’re going to let the data lead our work,” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager, of Boeing’s commercial crew program, in a statement. “Our team has worked diligently to ensure the safety and success of this mission, and we will not launch until our vehicle is performing nominally and our teams are confident it is ready to fly.”
The valve issue is with Starliner, not its corresponding Atlas V rocket developed by the United Launch Alliance (ULA). “Atlas and the pad are fine,” tweeted Tory Bruno, president and CEO of ULA. Earlier in the day, “mission teams detected indications that not all valves were in the proper configuration needed for launch.
It is also unclear when there will be another proposed date.
Boeing was hoping to kick off Orbital Flight Test 2 at 1:20 p.m. Tuesday. The capsule and rocket were poised to blast off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The area is known for sudden changes in weather, but conditions looked promising for Tuesday.
An hour before the launch cancellation was announced, ULA said weather in the area “are acceptable with no threat of lightning for the Blue Team’s entrance into the launchpad and for their work.”
The scrubbed launch attempt comes just days after a Russian lab module, Nauka, caused chaos at the space station, delaying Starliner’s previous relaunch date set for Friday. The Russian module unexpectedly fired its thrusters, which tilted the space station 45 degrees outside its typical orientation.
NASA pushed back Boeing’s launch to investigate.
The Starliner mission is supposed to be a demonstration flight to show NASA that the unmanned capsule is ready to later transport humans to and from the space station. It’s unclear when this will happen. Boeing previously said it hopes to transport human astronauts later this year.
Starliner now sits perched atop its corresponding rocket at the launch site adjacent to Kennedy’s Space Center having entered the four-hour countdown phase after crews fueled it for liftoff. This would be the point when astronauts would board during future missions.
Boeing and Starliner have had a rocky past. The aerospace behemoth flubbed its first try at getting the capsule into space in 2019. Liftoff was successful, however, a software issue soon after sent the capsule into the wrong orbit and forced Boeing to call it back home.
Since then, Boeing has spent at least $410 million dollars to make software corrections. NASA also played a more hands-on role to get the space taxi up to snuff.
Upon its eventual liftoff, Starliner will take a day-long trip to the space station carrying cargo and supplies for NASA. It will then return back to Earth to prepare for future missions if things go according to play.
Tuesday’s flight would have been the 145th mission for United Launch Alliance and the 88th Atlas V launch. It would have also given Boeing a better chance at catching up with SpaceX, NASA’s other commercial crew partner, which has already sent three manned missions to space.
NASA wants the two companies to give the space agency more affordable options to reach Earth’s lower orbit.