As engineers continue investigating a valve problem that delayed the mission two months ago, NASA and Boeing are eyeing the first half of 2022 for the rescheduled flight test of CST-100 Starliner commercial crew spacecraft.
NASA reported in a statement on October 8 that engineers had managed to remove all but one of the Starliner spacecraft’s 13 jammed propellant valves. Boeing’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) 2 mission was postponed in early August due to the jammed valves. “To maintain forensics for the direct root cause study,” the one remaining valve that is still stuck closed is intentionally kept that way.
The fundamental reason for the jammed valves has yet to be determined, however, NASA indicated that Boeing believed the most likely cause was a reaction between moisture and the nitrogen tetroxide propellant, which Boeing officials suggested in August. Although “some verification work is underway,” the statement noted, “our confidence is strong enough that we are beginning remedial and preventive actions.”
Boeing technicians partly disassembled 3 valves last month as part of those attempts, and will remove three more valves for assessment in the coming weeks. These efforts will decide how Boeing will prep the spacecraft for a future launch effort, with options ranging from “minimal refurbishment” of components in the Starliner’s service module to completely replacing it.
The next OFT-2 deployment attempt will not take place this year, according to NASA. “The team is now working toward possibilities in the very first half of 2022,” according to the agency, “pending hardware completion, the rocket manifest, as well as space station availability.”
Because of the continuing inquiry and other flights to the station, it was already evident that OFT-2 would not fly this year. At a Sept. 21 briefing, Kathy Lueders, NASA assistant administrator for the space operations, said, “The timeline and manifest through the close of the year are quite tight right now.” “My intuition tells me it’ll be next year, but we’re still working through the timeframe.”
During a briefing on the forthcoming SpaceX Crew-3 commercial crew mission on October 6, NASA commercial crew programme manager Steve Stich expressed the same sentiment. “It’s unlikely that OFT-2 will be able to fly this year,” he stated. “From the standpoint of the station, a window for OFT-2 would open up somewhere early next year.”
The Starliner will dock at 1 of 2 ports, one of which is already occupied by the Crew Dragon spaceship. Starting in early December and presumably lasting until early January, the other port is going to be occupied by the cargo Dragon spaceship. Axiom Space’s Ax-1 mission is slated to launch on February 21 and dedicate a week connected to the station utilizing that other port.