boeing starliner

Starliner’s launch to the ISS called off due to last-minute glitch

Image credit: PA

A last-minute glitch has forced Boeing to abandon attempts to launch its CST-100 Starliner to the International Space Station (ISS).

Mission teams are now examining the cause of indications on Starliner’s propulsion system of an “unexpected valve position”.

The reusable crew capsule, in development for over a decade, has been designed to transport crew to the ISS and other low-Earth-orbit destinations.

Alongside Nasa teams, Boeing worked through several steps to try and troubleshoot the problem, but was ultimately forced to call off the launch at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Engineering teams have already ruled out a number of potential causes, including software, but additional time is needed to complete the assessment, Nasa said.

The teams plan to take whatever time is necessary to ensure Starliner is ready for its uncrewed flight test to the space station and will look for the next available opportunity for launch after it has resolved the issue.

“Additional time is needed to complete the assessment,” Boeing said in a statement, adding that the next potential launch window on Wednesday was not a viable option.

The programme’s manager John Vollmer said: “We’re going to let the data lead our work. We will not launch until our vehicle is performing nominally and our teams are confident it is ready to fly.”

While humans may not be present, the test flight was supposed to see Starliner carry supplies and test equipment to the ISS in order to demonstrate its capabilities in launching, docking, and then re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere while performing a safe desert landing.

Boeing’s previous attempt at an uncrewed test flight in 2019 ended in failure due to an unforeseen software glitch. While the capsule was able to reach orbit and land safely, a software problem prevented it from docking successfully with the ISS.

The Starliner capsule was Boeing's main answer to Elon Musk's SpaceX, which became the first private company to return Nasa astronauts to the space station from US soil last year. 

Boeing has already been awarded $5.1bn from Nasa to develop the capsule compared to just $3.1bn for SpaceX.

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