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Starliner manned launch delayed until 2023

NASA and Boeing yesterday announced that the first manned flight of a Starliner capsule has been delayed again, and will not occur before February 2023, at the earliest.

This delay is in order to fix the various thruster problems that occurred in the second unmanned demo flight in May 2021, dubbed OFT-2.

Nappi said some “debris-related conditions” likely caused those thrusters to shut down, but later noted that is their best estimate since the OMAC thrusters are in a service module that burns up on reentry and is not recovered. “We do not know where the debris may have come from,” he said. “The bottom line is that it looks to be the leading root cause, and we’ve eliminated that by looking at the CFT vehicle and making sure that there’s absolutely no debris in the system.”

Several reaction control thrusters also shut down during the mission, which Nappi said was likely due to low inlet pressures and can be addressed with a “tweak in timing and tolerances” in software. High pressures in a thermal control loop noticed in the mission were linked to filters that engineers determined are not needed and can be removed. A guidance system on the spacecraft called VESTA worked well but generated more data than the flight software could handle, requiring changes to the software. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted words indicate once again that there are quality control problems at Boeing. For any “debris” to get into the thrusters without notice means someone at some point wasn’t doing things right.

SpaceX and Boeing got contracts to fly humans on their commercial capsules at the same time, in 2014. SpaceX began those flights in 2020, about three years behind schedule, mostly due to NASA-imposed delays. Boeing has still not flown, with almost all its delays resulting from company failures, almost all of which were uncovered during the two unmanned demo flights in 2019 and 2022.

Hopefully, the company will finally get the last kinks from the system before next year’s flight. In the meantime its inability to get this job done on time has meant it has lost a lot of commercial business, all of which went to SpaceX.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!

 

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Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.

 

“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.

 

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Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.

16 comments

  • V-Man

    The thing’s a deathtrap. You couldn’t pay me to step foot on it, much less go to space with it!

  • Ray Van Dune

    If debris was assumed to be contaminating the control system, and the origin of that debris is still unknown, is it not reasonable to question whether it it safe for humans to fly in Starliner at this point?

    And note that debris is the assumed cause of the failures, but that assumption cannot be confirmed, possibly leaving the cause open to being a design flaw.

    Boeing, should consider undertaking another unmanned mission at no cost: a failure causing the loss or serious endangerment of astronaut lives would likely set Boeing’s space business back years, perhaps permanently.

    OTOH – further delays might well cause NASA to determine that there is no need for Starliner in its future programs. That may well be a valid question NASA should be asking, even at this time.

    What a mess!

  • Jerry Greenwood

    ‘What a mess’ is the understatement of the year. Having been on the inside of projects like this (although much, much smaller) at the other giant government contractor, I know what is happening behind closed doors. Knowing that this is all on Boeing’s dime paints a frightening picture of senior engineers being screamed at by upper management and junior engineers getting worse from their department heads.

    but there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out

  • Jerry Greenwood: You just in one paragraph described the authoritarian culture of the Soviet Union (see pages 378-379 of Leaving Earth). If this is how Boeing functions it is no surprise the company is having troubles.

  • John Fisher

    Jerry Greenwood

    You left out kicking and blaming the subcontractors; something I can assure you Boeing does gleefully. Don’t ask me how I know.

  • Richard M

    Jerry Greenwood,

    That’s pretty much exactly the environment at Boeing I have heard described by NASA Commercial Crew managers.

    They had no problem with the Boeing engineers they worked with. But management was a nightmare to work with, both for NASA, and Boeing’s own engineers. They were unwilling to listen, or take advice. Or staff up Starliner properly.

    Despite all that, I do hope they can make this thing reliably operational sometime soon. I don’t at all care for the idea of having Soyuz be our only backup for getting to orbit. In the longer (hopefully not too long!) term, I hope for other, better U.S. based commercial alternatives, but for the moment, Starliner is the one closest to actually getting out the barn door.

  • Ray Van Dune

    Good question, Jeff. Haven’t heard the question addressed by SpaceX. They do have multiple screens…

  • Edward

    Ray Van Dune suggested: “Boeing, should consider undertaking another unmanned mission at no cost: a failure causing the loss or serious endangerment of astronaut lives would likely set Boeing’s space business back years, perhaps permanently.

    Not to detract from V-Man’s concerns, but both Boeing and NASA determined that the problems were not such that astronauts would have been endangered. There was sufficient redundancy that the mission was completed, and if there had been worse problems, the spacecraft could still safely and successfully return to Earth. I expect that a manned mission is next, and I further expect that if the problems are not fixed then there will be a lot more concern from NASA.

    Jerry Greenwood wrote: “Knowing that this is all on Boeing’s dime paints a frightening picture of senior engineers being screamed at by upper management and junior engineers getting worse from their department heads.

    Youza! I’m glad I never worked at those places. Generally, when we had problems (and we did), we concentrated on how to go forward without slipping the schedule too much. There was a mass simulator ready for a satellite, early in my career, that was to fly in place of a science instrument we were building. If we weren’t ready on time, they were ready to fly without us. We were ready in time, but management chose not to hold a lessons learned review so that we didn’t point fingers. It was the first time in my career that I was glad I didn’t go into thermal engineering, and for the same reason that I made it a firm decision during my thermal class in college. (There were plenty of other problems and plenty or other places fingers could point, but I realized that thermal design is as hard as I thought it would be.)

  • John

    Such a minimal amount of ‘fine tuning’, yet it takes so long. Debris from unknown source, and it’s unknowable if it was even debris. Wow. They know this is a spacecraft, right? It’s just the thrusters for maneuvering in orbit.

    Boeing is getting kid glove treatment. They should be forced to do another un-crewed launch.

  • Doubting Thomas

    I believe that NASA astronaut reviews cause SpaceX to put a set of switches and buttons below the touch panels for “critical” controls. Can’t find a good picture of the physical controls.

  • flatdarkmars

    I’d love to see Boeing get their s#@t together, but their decision to move their headquarters from Chicago to Arlington (read: the DC area) says to me that they’ve decided they can’t compete in the marketplace, so they’ve decided to double-down on lobbying. Things are going to get worse for Boeing before they get better.

  • Patrick Underwood

    The SpaceX panels probably use “reversion” similar to the glass multifunction displays common in aviation. Usually each panel displays different information, but if one fails, the remaining display can handle everything in a slightly smaller format. Power is redundant as well.

    Steam gauges and mechanical switches have their own difficulties and failure modes.

  • Michael

    In defense of Boeing. Boeing was a good company. They bought out Rockwell Space Division – which was well because Rockwell the company had lost interest in matters space and was just sort of phoning it in. After the buyout all at the old Rockwell site was well and life was good (they even let us use the old North American moniker for a while) except it kind of irked me when folks sometimes referred to the “Boeing” Space Shuttle. THEN Boeing bought McDonnell-Douglas which was a huge mistake. Somehow in the consolidation McDonnell-Douglas management managed to supplant Boeing management and that was the beginning of the end for Boeing engineering as an entity and the rise of the bean counters.

    What we see now is McDac sitting on what used to be Boeing.

  • Michael:

    The McDonnell-Boeing merger fiasco has been noted in the comments here, (and, I bet, In B-School texts) usually by folks involved. I worked for a company doing Boeing contract work in the Seattle area, and the culture changed markedly after the merger. Worsened when headquarters moved to Chicago, and now further East.

    I went to B-School at Oregon State, and had several refugee instructors from Hewlett Packard, for similar reasons.

  • Star Bird

    Jupiter 2 Launched on Oct 16 1997

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