The launch was part of an unmanned test flight, dubbed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2), the second for Starliner. Since the issue was discovered, Boeing has still not been able to identify the root cause of 13 of the 24 propulsion system valves stuck in the closed position during routine pre-mission activities.
Two valves have been removed from the spacecraft and sent to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where they will be dismantled and examined for further investigation, Michelle Parker, chief space and launch engineer for Boeing, said during a press briefing on Tuesday.
In 2014, NASA awarded each Boeing and SpaceX contracts for 6 round-trip crewed missions to the International Space Station as part of its Commercial Crew Program (CCP). The agency is going through both contracts to potentially add even more flights to each company’s roster, especially in light of the likely extension of the ISS’s operational lifespan beyond 2024, Stich said, director of the NASA CCP, during the press briefing. The eventual schedule could see each company transporting astronauts to and from the station once a year.
NASA maintains “full confidence that Boeing will soon be piloting a crew,” Stich said. “We will solve this problem, then we will have two space transportation systems as we wish, with Boeing and SpaceX both flying. […] I have no reason to believe that Boeing will not succeed.
Even after Boeing brings Starliner back to the launch pad, Boeing CCP Program Director John Vollmer estimated it would take around six months from a successful OFT-2 to a crewed mission. He added that the cost of the valve investigation and the launch delay will be borne by Boeing, not NASA.
This is the second attempt to launch Starliner, after OFT-1 failed to enter target orbit during a launch in 2019 due to a software glitch. SpaceX, the other contractor selected under NASA’s PCC, has flown three crewed missions with its Crew Dragon capsule and will fly a fourth on Halloween.