According to a NASA official, a test flight of the Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle, which was postponed in August due to a valve problem, is unlikely to happen until next year. Kathy Lueders, who serves as the associate administrator for NASA’s modern Space Operations Mission Directorate, told reporters that engineers were still trying to figure out why valves that are in the Starliner spacecraft’s propulsion system were stuck, shut delaying an uncrewed test flight that had been planned for early August.
In August, Boeing decided to cancel the Orbital Flight Test (OFT) 2 test flight, citing a scheduling conflict. The corporation detaches the Starliner spacecraft from the Atlas 5 rocket and returns it to its Kennedy Space Center production plant to analyze the issue further.
“The crew is currently troubleshooting,” Lueders explained. Last month, Boeing officials stated that nitrogen tetroxide propellant spilled via Teflon seals on valves and combined with moisture on the valve’s “dry” side to create nitric acid, which corroded the valves and led them to stick shut. According to Lueders, workers have analyzed the valves’ dry side and are now contemplating removing valves to examine the “wet” side. In the next weeks, she said, a “decision point” would be reached on whether to fix this service module or utilize a newer service module for the OFT-2 mission.
She doubted the OFT-2 mission would be completed by the end of the year. “Right now, the timeframe and manifest until the close of the year are pretty,” she remarked. “My initial instinct is that it will most likely be next year, but we’re still working through the timeline.”
The mission’s launch will be contingent not only on the vehicle’s readiness but also on the provision of the docking ports on this station. Commercial crew vehicles, like the Starliner, can dock at any of the station’s two ports. The Crew Dragon spaceship for the Crew-2 mission uses one port, while a cargo Dragon spacecraft uses the other.
In November, the Crew-2 spaceship will be succeeded by a revamped Crew Dragon, which will conduct the Crew-3 mission. The OFT-2 trip would have to launch when the alternative docking port isn’t being used by a Crew Dragon or even a cargo Dragon flying commercial Ax-1 expedition to the station, which is set to launch in early 2022.
The Crew Flight Test mission will send 3 NASA space explorers to the station, and further operational trips will be delayed if the OFT-2 mission is delayed further. Lueders stated, “I don’t think we’re ready to discuss when precisely the OFT-2 mission is formal.” “I believe the team is making excellent work on additional troubleshooting, and I am certain that we will resolve this issue before flying crew.”