It now appears that the launch scrub last week of Boeing’s Starliner second unmanned demo flight to ISS occurred because thirteen valves in the capsule’s propulsion valves all failed to open during prelaunch testing.
Over the weekend, the team made “positive progress,” a spokesperson said Monday, allowing the company to continue to plan for a launch this month. The company has found “no signs of damage or external corrosion,” Boeing said in a statement Monday. “Test teams are now applying mechanical, electrical and thermal techniques to prompt the valves open.” As a result, more than half of the valves “are now operating as designed,” it said, and work would continue on the others “in the days ahead.”
In a blog post, NASA said that “if all valve functionality can be restored and root cause identified, NASA will work with Boeing to determine a path to flight for the important uncrewed mission to the space station.” The earliest opportunity would come in mid-August, it said.
But Boeing still does not know what caused the valves to remain closed when they needed to be in the open position, and it is unclear how long determining that would take. As a result, some in the aerospace industry are skeptical the company could launch this month.
They have managed to get seven of those thirteen valves working again.
That 13 of 24 failed to function correct strongly suggests the problem isn’t random but is instead a fundamental design problem that needs to be identified prior to launch.
That such a problem has only been discovered now, during the launch countdown, does not reflect well on Boeing or its capsule. That the problem was not noticed in the year and a half delay caused by the software problems during the first unmanned demo flight in December 2019 makes this problem even more disturbing.
In fact, it is downright shocking. It makes one wonder about Boeing’s entire operation, considering the disastrous problems the company has also had with its commercial and military airplane projects in recent years. Does the company have no quality control systems in place, at all?
I truly hope Boeing gets this fixed and Starliner flying, but right now they need to fly a number of times, including reusing a capsule a few times, before I’d recommend anyone buying a ticket.
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