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Starliner return delayed again, until July

NASA tonight announced that it is once again delaying the undocking from ISS and the return to Earth of Boeing’s Starliner capsule, carrying two astronauts, with the return date a as-yet unspecified date in July.

The move off Wednesday, June 26, deconflicts Starliner’s undocking and landing from a series of planned International Space Station spacewalks while allowing mission teams time to review propulsion system data.

It seems to me that they have decided the more time Starliner spends in space right now, the more data they can gather about its flightworthiness in the future. Remember, the first manned Dragon demo mission stayed at ISS for more than two months.

Their approach however — announcing small delays over and over again — is extremely poor PR. It makes it seem as if the capsule’s various issues — thrusters, helium leaks, and valves — are a more serious than I think they are.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

 

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8 comments

  • Jeff Wright

    Starliner has more dedicated switches and is less glass cockpit than Dragon–which I do like.

  • Ray Van Dune

    I hope that someone has a plan to get another two seats available on another capsule, presumably a Dragon.

    Some questions:
    1. Are seats movable / interchangeable between ships (and if not, why not)?
    2. Can the on-station Crew Dragon reenter with two more occupants?
    3. If not, can the next Dragon be configured to? Polaris Dawn, maybe not. Crew-9 certainly, but in August!
    4. Can Polaris Dawn and Crew-9 be switched?

    Ps. I sure wouldn’t want to be any NASA Administrator that has to tell Biden that our butt can only be saved by… Elon Musk!

  • John

    “deconflicts Starliner’s undocking and landing from a series of planned…”

    Or

    “We are letting the data drive our decision making relative to managing the small helium system leaks and thruster performance…”

    My spidey sense also went off at, “given the duration of the mission, it is appropriate for us to complete an agency-level review..”

    Maybe some smart low level engineers are pushing the mission duration to trigger the agency-level oversight. The review is good thing. One can only hope a modern corrupt institution can still make non-political decisions. There must be tremendous pressure to get this mission completed, Boeing is in the fold.

    I agree that the (stated) problems are minor, but unless you know exactly why something occurs, and why it won’t again, then there is risk.

  • John

    Another link: https://arstechnica.com/space/2024/06/nasa-indefinitely-delays-return-of-starliner-to-review-propulsion-data/

    “The announcement followed two days of long meetings to review the readiness of the spacecraft, developed by Boeing, to fly NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams to Earth. According to sources these meetings included high-level participation from senior leaders at the agency, including associate administrator Jim Free.”

    NASA forgot to mention that in their blog, but nowadays it is hard to tell what is fake news. I strongly suspect the deconfliction is an excuse.

    Possibly, we lost 1 of 8 orbital maneuvering thrusters, and 5 of 28 reaction control thrusters. We we know precisely how much helium will be lost from 5 leaks is it stands now. But why?

    This really irks me: “We are strategically using the extra time to clear a path for some critical station activities while completing readiness for Butch and Suni’s return on Starliner and gaining valuable insight into the system upgrades we will want to make for post-certification missions,” Stich said.

    You make the system upgrades before flying Butch and Suni. Before.

  • Doubting Thomas

    I had to go back and look up Dragon Demo 2 (Hurley and Behnken aboard the Dragon Capsule Endeavour) statistics from May 2020 (Seems so long ago!)

    Mission duration: 63 days, 23 hours and 25 minutes

    Time docked with ISS: 62 days, 9 hours, 8 minutes

    I don’t recall a mission extension on Demo 2. I think the Spacex Demo crew were always planned to fly about 60 days. Now it looks like Starliner will fly about 30 days (with a capsule that is apparently only rated for 45 days in orbit).

    This Starliner mission seems to be going significantly more poorly than the corresponding SpaceX Dragon mission.

  • Doubting Thomas: The first manned Dragon demo mission to ISS had a roughly 2-month planned mission, but the return date was always flexible depending on what happened. As it was, based on posts on BtB, they did extend it slightly into an August return.

  • Doubting Thomas

    I could not help myself and kept digging in old news articles on Crew Dragon Demo 2 Mission. Here is a quote from an article published about 3 weeks before SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo 2 mission lift-off (Tech Crunch Website):

    “NASA says the mission will last anywhere between 30 days and 119 days, depending on a few different factors…..The Crew Dragon used on this Demo mission could technically remain on orbit for over 200 days, but the purpose of this mission was not originally intended to be staffing the International Space Station, though that’s now part of the plan as a sort of stretch goal.” (Behnken completed 4 spacewalks while aboard the ISS).

    Compare the above words to the apparent plan for Starliner: A couple of weeks, stretched to maybe a month with a system that is only rated for 45 days (25% of the time required for an ISS crew resupply mission). In contrast, SpaceX went to space with their manned demonstration ready to perform 110% of a standard crew resupply mission and then DEMONSTRATED 34% of required standard mission duration.

    This just reinforces my feeling that SpaceX (and NASA) was better prepared technically and operationally than Boeing and NASA. Perhaps that can be attributed to the 20 Cargo Dragon flights sent to the ISS before the launch of the Crew Dragon flight.

    Boeing (and NASA) should be deeply embarrassed by all this. At this point I just want to see Astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore home safely. Then stop flying Starliner until they (really) get it figured out or Boeing throws in the towel.

    I have said before, watch for Congress and NASA to find a way to inject massively more money into Boeing to fix this disaster because Boeing is “too big to fail.”

  • James Street

    That was an interesting question John Batchelor asked on his show the other day if Starliner was being scrutinized by the FAA as much as SpaceX.

    The horrifying thing is with all this oversite NASA is one of the most effectively run government agencies.

    Recent headlines on some other government projects:

    “Biden admin mandates EVs but can’t build more than seven charging stations costing $7.5 billion”
    “Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was asked on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” about the $7.5 billion taxpayers have been levied for a nationwide EV charging station network. In the over two years since the funding was announced, the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) has managed to produce only seven, despite the announced plans call for a half million stations being built six years from now by 2030. Buttigieg was unfazed when asked about the numbers.”
    https://justthenews.com/politics-policy/energy/biden-admin-mandates-evs-cant-build-more-seven-charging-stations-75-billion

    “Over $42 billion and 3 years later, Biden’s rural high-speed internet plan hasn’t connected a single home”
    https://www.theblaze.com/news/over-42-billion-and-three-years-later-bidens-rural-high-speed-internet-plan-hasnt-connected-a-single-home

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