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Starliner’s return delayed again

NASA today announced that the return of Starliner from ISS, carrying two astronauts, has been delayed again, from June 18th to June 22nd.

It appears engineers want to perform more tests of the the spacecraft’s attitude thrusters before undocking. The failure of some thrusters during docking on June 6th has raised some concerns.

NASA and Boeing teams also prepared plans for Starliner to fire seven of its eight aft-facing thrusters while docked to the station to evaluate thruster performance for the remainder of the mission. Known as a “hot fire test,” the process will see two bursts of the thrusters, totaling about a second, as part of a pathfinder process to evaluate how the spacecraft will perform during future operational missions after being docked to the space station for six months. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted words are kind of a lie. While there is no doubt this test will tell engineers a lot about future operations, such a test, while attached to ISS, would never have been approved had the thrusters all worked as planned during docking. The real reason for this static fire test is to make sure the thrusters will work once undocked.

If they don’t work, there could be a safety issue putting the astronauts in Starliner for return to Earth.

NASA plans a press briefing on June 18th at noon (Eastern) to outline in better detail the situation.

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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14 comments

  • Larry

    I think there’s at least a 50/50 chance those 2 astronauts are going to have to return on a Dragon. This could be the end for Boeing Space.

    Boy, James McDonnell sure created a toxic management culture – two great companies, Douglas and Boeing, were ruined by McDonnell mismanagement.

  • pzatchok

    All tests were nominal until……………..

    They have got to hate needing these tests while under operations.

  • Steve Richter

    “… This could be the end for Boeing Space. …”

    and still no in depth reporting on what is preventing Boeing from producing solid products. I think it is the divergent mix of unions and DEI. But that is pure speculation. Interview recently retired workers and managers. You just know they will prove to be an opinionated bunch with access to insider knowledge.

  • Steve Richter: The numerous Boeing whistleblowers have testified extensively about Boeing’s messed up corporate culture. Do a search and some reading. It will disgust you.

  • Ray Van Dune

    Poor Boeing astronauts don’t even have a change of clothes with them.

    Better call Elon. Now.

  • AO1

    Steve Richter
    While Boeing may have the issues you describe, my suspicion is the Boeing management only used Starliner as a training exercise for their ‘junior’ engineers or did little serious about it at the beginning.
    My cynic view is that they, along with their pet politicians (Nelson being one), expected to kill the program and divert the funds to other more profitable NASA activities.
    When it became apparent that SpaceX was making serious progress thanks to their openness in showing it all off, including any mishaps, the Boeing management failed to respond in time. Now they’re living with that lack of commitment.

    Does anyone else think it’s coincidence Nelson doesn’t seem to make much appearance re:Starliner, but would be front and center if they succeeded shouting his confidence in Boeing from the beginning?

  • Mark Sizer

    The numerous Boeing whistleblowers have testified extensively

    And then committed suicide – you can tell from the bullet wounds in the back of their heads.

    That’s barely even cynicism. There is something seriously wrong with our “elite”.

  • Doubting Thomas

    “NASA plans a press briefing on June 18th at noon (Eastern) to outline in better detail the situation.”

    I would like to be a fly on the wall in the analysis room and the management conference room. Could it be that bad? I bet they have 5 PR types working in series trying to figure out the best way to spin the situation in the press briefing in 4 days.

    It seems that the most charitable case is that the current crew is in no danger but Boeing and NASA recognize that the current situation/ condition of the Starliner system is untenable in the case of a 6 month stay during a normal crew mission. The additional time is to allow data to be taken so that upon return Boeing has some hope of figuring out what is going on with their commercial crew system. I expect that Boeing is not going to get a crew resupply mission in the foreseeable future.

    Look for Congress or NASA management to give Boeing some special arrangement to help them out of their jam.

  • pzatchok

    Boeing did not let Starliner become a training device for their junior engineers.
    If everything well the juniors would get all the credit.

    I can see the original engineers quitting the project as problems mounted. Thus leaving the juniors to take the heat.
    Those who can will do it every time.

    I am just surprised that Boeing let this ship fly after the mounting problems could not be corrected but instead just worked around.

  • Jay

    Larry brings up a good point.
    So I wonder what the contingency plans are if Starliner is no good? Leave Suni and Butch on the station and bring up the next Dragon with only two members, which is due in August? I know the Dragon “Resilience” is supposed to launch next month with a private crew with the EVA modifications, would they modify it back to docking with ISS? Does the currently docked Dragon “Endeavour” have the ability to carry more people?

  • Jay: It is impossible to reconfigure Resilience. The hatch has replaced the docking mechanisms.

    Endeavour launched with four astronauts. I don’t think it can carry six.

    Bottom line: While they could come home on the Dragon due in August, I think the situation is not that critical. The issues on Starliner are disturbing because of what they tell us about the quality control at Boeing. They do not appear to be so bad that a return in the capsule. is too dangerous.

  • Jay

    Thanks Bob. I was looking at the up/down mass numbers for the manned Dragon, but it is probably a not question of mass but of volume and bringing them back safely in one piece!

  • Jeff Wright

    Ah, just put Jerry Linenger in it….

  • pzatchok

    This is a good reason to have a reserve Dragon set aside and waiting.

    Just put it on the next Falcon 9 and go.

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