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Starliner manned launch delayed again; no new launch announced

In a very terse statement that apparently was only sent out by email to some sources, NASA and Boeing announced last night that the May 25, 2024 launch of the first manned Starliner mission on ULA’s Atlas-5 rocket had been postponed, with no new launch date set.

NASA, Boeing, and ULA are foregoing the Saturday, May 25 launch attempt for NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test. The team has been in meetings for two consecutive days, assessing flight rationale, system performance, and redundancy. There is still forward work in these areas, and the next possible launch opportunity is still being discussed.

NASA will share more details once we have a clearer path forward,

The first launch scrub prior to the first launch date of May 6th was due to a valve issue on the Atlas-5 rocket. ULA quickly replaced that valve and the launch was rescheduled for May 17th. Then Boeing engineers detected a helium leak related to one of the attitude thrusters in the capsule’s service module. The launch was first delayed until May 21st, then delayed again until May 25th. Now it is delayed indefinitely.

Whether that helium leak remains the cause of this new delay remains unknown. That no new launch date has been proposed suggests the need to bring the rocket and capsule back to the assembly building to destack it in order to fix the problem. That NASA, Boeing, and ULA are being so coy about revealing any details suggests however that some additional issue might have been uncovered.

Regardless, this new extended delay is very bad publicity for Boeing. While the comparison is somewhat unfair, it continues to make Starliner look like an American version of a Yugo, not the kind of vehicle one would nonchalantly climb into for a flight into space.

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  • Tregonsee314

    Our Host said

    it continues to make Starliner look like an American version of a Yugo,

    That is patently unfair to Yugos. They at least would usually run straight off the dealer’s lot for a couple of thousand miles. Not run well mind you, but run…

    I am truly surprised that Boeing with its grafted on McDonnell Douglas bean counter centric culture has not just written this off LONG ago. The penalty clause(s) for this contract must be REALLY brutal. like a take back of all previous payouts or similar.

  • Doubting Thomas

    ****Eric Berger just reported (3 hours ago) that at the latest is that Starliner might try again on May 28th and then felt it important to confirm that he meant May 28th OF THIS YEAR.****

    Tregonsee314 – This is from a NASA website explaining the Commercial Crew Program.

    “CCtCap is the second phase of a two-phase certification plan for commercially built and operated integrated
    crew transportation systems. Two FAR-based, firm fixed-price contracts were awarded in September 2014
    following an open competition. Through its certification efforts, NASA will ensure the selected commercial
    transportation systems meet the agency’s safety and performance requirements for transporting NASA crew to
    the International Space Station. NASA awarded a total of $6.8 billion under CCtCap contracts. CCtCap Source
    Selection Statement.”

    Boeing – $4.2 billion
    SpaceX – $2.6 billion

    Under this program, the two most important events were unmanned demonstration to ISS and a crewed demonstration to ISS. The prize at the end of this journey was to be additional crew transportation contracts to ISS.

    Therefore Boeing has already received their $4.2 Billion from NASA (and has publicly announced in stock disclosures of a charge of $1.6 Billion to the program). This means that Boeing has spent $5.8 Billion dollars and STILL not accomplished the CCtCAP program goals.

    In that ten year period SpaceX completed their obligations to CCtCAP and went on to conduct 12 crewed launches (8 NASA 4 Commercial) and taken 46 people into space (35 for Government 11 Commercial entities)

  • John

    What are Boeing’s total obligations to the government for the $4.2 b?

    Will Boeing get another contract for post certification missions or are they on the hook for those as well?

  • Jay

    Pending an official announcement, we understand Starliner’s CFT mission is currently planning a launch date of
    June 1 at 12:25:36PM EDT
    Any bets that it gets moved again?

  • Doubting Thomas

    John – As I understand looking at the solicitation, their obligation was the uncrewed demo and the crew demo.

    I have not been able to find a copy of the contract on line. I would expect that they have one substantial “progress payment” left in completion of the crew demonstration. But in addition to the sweet deal of almost double the funded contract money that SpaceX received the two contracts details were different.

    For all I know, the crew demo progress payment was $1B for SpaceX and $1 for Boeing.

    1 June? I bet the date gets moved again.

  • John

    I think Doubting Thomas is correct., Boeing needs to only demonstrate the crewed demo. But.

    The contracts can be found linked here under CCtCap:

    It’s confusing to me. From what I can tell from the source selection statement phase 2 of commercial crew is broken into three CLINs. CLIN 002 is the subsequent flights and CLIN 001 is crewed demonstration and is what Boeing is trying to deliver. The price for the subsequent Post certification flights (PCMs) flights is TBD. Here’s the But: two subsequent flights are ‘guaranteed’ and up to six may be allowed. Those are funded Indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ). (whatever that means).

    What I’m wondering is where does Boeing go from here, assuming they eventually launch and the astronauts survive.

    Boeing will want to recoup the $1.6 billion on the books loss, that’s growing day by day. How much do they get for PCMs? Is Starliner flying once for $4.2b taxpayer? Is anyone else going to buy a flight on Starliner? What a mess.

    Some of that wording on the helium leak was troublesome. “The testing also indicated the rest of the thruster system is sealed effectively across the entire service module. Boeing teams are working to develop operational procedures to ensure the system retains sufficient performance capability and appropriate redundancy during the flight.”

    Procedures, Performance capability, and redundancy is not the same as “fixed” especially for man rated. I think there’s tremendous pressure to save Boeing and get this flight off. Whatever is going on, it’s a mess.

  • Jeff Wright

    If Boeing is to get any engineering Moxie back–they have to finish something.

    They bid on DARPA space plane with no expectations to build anything.

  • Doubting Thomas

    John – Thanks for pointing out that the actual (redacted) contracts CAN be gotten at the link inside the NASA website.

    I spent some time looking over the Boeing contract. Section J of the contract provides the milestones and payment schedule and, as you would expect for something this complex, section J is broken up into numerous subsections. Sadly all payment amounts are redacted and most interestingly, some of the subsections of J for certain grouped milestone tasks are redacted completely. They are just a page with a solid black box on it.

    This makes it impossible to determine if Boeing’s criteria was weighted to give them more money (we know that from the total award) AND to give them that money faster than somebody else. Company A gets $10 for Milestone 1 and Company B gets $1,000 for the same milestone.

    Of course, all federal contractors make cases for why they need their money upfront and there is technical, programmatic and contractual logic to that.

    Somebody in USG) has to justify that decision and once it is documented somewhere, it is all perfectly legal to give somebody different dollar values for the same Milestone. Good luck digging that justification out.

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