Capitalism in space: ULA has begin assembling the Atlas-5 rocket it will use in May to launch Boeing’s Starliner manned capsule on its second unmanned demo mission.
The article provides a detailed description of the status of both the rocket and the capsule, including this update on the valve issues that caused the August ’21 launch of this second demo mission to be scrubbed:
Engineers believe the valve components likely corroded from the interaction of nitrogen tetroxide propellant with moisture that seeped into the thrusters on the spacecraft’s service module, then permeated a Teflon seal inside the valve itself.
Technicians removed the service module from the Starliner’s crew module in January for shipment to a test facility in New Mexico, where teams are performing tests to better understand the valve problem. The OFT-2 [in May] mission will fly with a new service module, one originally assigned to the first Starliner mission with astronauts. Teams inside Boeing’s Starliner hangar mated the crew module with the new service module March 12. Filling of the service module with propellant is expected to occur this month, before the spacecraft rolls over to ULA’s rocket integration building for stacking atop the Atlas 5.
Boeing said the Starliner team designed a new purging system to help prevent moisture from getting into the valves during the upcoming launch campaign while the spacecraft is in the factory and at ULA’s launch site.
Boeing’s engineering failures with Starliner have been expensive to the company. Not only has Boeing had to pay out of its own pocket an extra $410 million for this second demo flight, it has had to write off the cost of that first service module. Furthermore, not being operational has probably meant it has lost business to SpaceX and its Dragon capsules. For example, when Axiom first announced it was going to fly commercial tourist flights in 2018, it was expected the company would use both Dragon and Starliner capsules. That might still happen, but at least for the first few years of operations all of Axiom’s business has gone to SpaceX. NASA has also had to throw all its manned flights to SpaceX for the next few years, some of which was originally aimed at Boeing.
Should this second demo flight succeed, however, the company will finally be in a position to launch passengers on Starliner and thus make money from the capsule.
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