The launch of the next test flight of Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule has been delayed until no later than April 2 after workers replaced the avionics units in spacecraft damaged in power surge during testing.
Boeing’s second orbital flight test mission, or OFT-2, will verify that the Starliner spacecraft is ready to take astronauts into orbit for the first time later this year.
In a statement on February 17th, Boeing and NASA said the OFT-2 mission launch has been rescheduled from March 25 to no later than April 2. The eight-day delay was caused by an increase in power during the final inspections of the spacecraft at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Boeing said technicians have replaced the avionics units that have been affected by the power surge. “We continue to ensure the safety of our spacecraft products and address any emerging issues in a timely manner.”
And NASA said the increase in capacity resulted from “a problem with configuring ground support equipment.”
Last month, teams inside the Kennedy Commercial Crew Equip and Shipping Facility mated the Starliner crew and service unit. The entire spacecraft was recently transported to a different area of the facility to receive its hazardous fuel payload.
Starliner propulsion engines consume a toxic mixture of hydrazine and nitrogen oxide for maneuvering in space. Aborted capsule engines use the same fuel-efficient combination.
Boeing said it is ready to rehearse the mission with Starliner flying hardware and flight software. Extensive testing will simulate the Starliner’s mission from launch to docking with the International Space Station, and from landing to landing, a Boeing rehearsal did not take place before Starliner’s first orbital test flight in 2019.
The OFT-2 mission is a repeat of Boeing’s test flight OFT-1 in December 2019. Software problems on the OFT-1 mission prevented the Starliner spacecraft from docking with the space station, resulting in a premature landing under parachutes at White Sands Space Harbor, New Mexico.
“NASA continues to work alongside Boeing to prepare for this first mission in 2021,” said Steve Stitch, NASA Commercial Crew Program Director, in a statement. “The teamwork between Boeing and NASA in all aspects of flight preparation including final certification, risk analysis and software testing is exceptional. Although the test of unmanned flight to the International Space Station is a major milestone on the route to the first planned Starliner manned mission Later this year, we will fly when we are ready. “
Engineers examined about 95% of the recommendations identified by the NASA-Boeing Joint Review Team that investigated the problems plaguing the OFT-1 mission.
“We appreciate the important work that NASA is doing before the launch,” said John Vollmer, Vice President of Starliner and Program Director at Boeing. “We are fully involved in the agency’s review process to ensure confidence in the spacecraft.”
Boeing said earlier this month That the engineers had completed a “retrofit” of the Starliner program, paving the way for the comprehensive rehearsals due to begin soon.
The Starliner spacecraft is one of two new crew capsules designed to carry astronauts to and from the space station. The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule flew with astronauts for the first time last May, but Boeing software issues delayed the Starliner program for more than a year.
NASA contracted with Boeing and SpaceX to develop the new crew capsules, ending the United States’ reliance on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft for astronaut transport services.
Assuming the week-long OFT-2 test flight went well, Boeing hopes to launch the first Starliner crew flight test with a crew of three as soon as possible in September. The three astronauts will stick to the space station, as they are expected to spend one to two weeks before returning to Earth.
After the crew flight test, NASA will certify the Starliner to fly its operational crew rotation missions to the space station. Boeing contracts with NASA for at least six of these, each carrying four astronauts and lasting for up to seven months.
Once the Starliner spacecraft is refueled, Boeing will transport the capsule to the United Launch Alliance’s Vertical Integration Facility at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. There, the cranes will lift the spacecraft over the Atlas 5 launch vehicle next month, two weeks before the scheduled launch date of April 2.
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