The “cursed” spacecraft remains on Earth again

The first manned flight of the space CST-100 Starliner scheduled for July 21 has been postponed indefinitely. This was announced at a joint teleconference held on June 1 by representatives of NASA and Boeing.

History of Starliner technical problems

The CST-100 Starliner was developed by Boeing under a NASA contract issued under the CCP program. Its goal is to create private manned spacecraft designed to deliver astronauts to the ISS. The second contract for this program went to SpaceX, which built the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Preparation of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. Source: NASA

Unlike Crew Dragon, Starliner turned out to be an extremely problematic spacecraft. Its first unmanned test took place back in December 2019. But due to the incorrect operation of the engines, the spacecraft could not dock with the ISS.

As a result, Boeing had to make a decision to carry out another unmanned launch. It was supposed to take place in August 2021. But the flight was disrupted due to an oxidizer leak that damaged the valves responsible for the fuel supply. As a result, engineers had to completely replace the Starliner service module.

As a result, the new Starliner test took place only in May 2022. This time the spacecraft managed to dock with the ISS, although not without some problems. Nevertheless, according to the test results, NASA approved the first test flight of the Starliner with a crew consisting of astronauts Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams. The flight plan assumes that they will spend eight days on board the ISS, after which they will return to Earth.

New launch postponement

But the problems didn’t end there. After receiving approval for the first manned flight of the Starliner, its date was repeatedly postponed: from the end of 2022 to the spring of 2023, and then to the summer. Because of this, some experts half-jokingly, half-seriously even began to call Boeing’s brainchild a “cursed” spacecraft.

Boeing Starliner spacecraft docked with the ISS. Photo: NASA

As a result, the launch was scheduled for July 21. At the end of May, NASA and Boeing specialists even managed to report that they had completed 95% of all certification work required for the flight of the spacecraft. But in the end, its launch was postponed again. Problems with the parachute system of the spacecraft, as well as the high flammability of the insulation coating of the wiring, are cited as the main reason. In the coming days, engineers will develop a plan to eliminate these problems, decide whether it is necessary to disassemble the spacecraft for this, and also indicate the timing of its preparation for the next launch attempt. 

The decision to reschedule the launch of the Starliner was another blow to Boeing’s reputation. But, despite all the problems, representatives of the company say that they are not going to abandon the project and intend to achieve the commissioning of the spacecraft.

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