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.
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