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Boeing astronaut capsule grounded for months by valve issue

Vollmer said moisture in the air somehow infiltrated 13 valves in the capsule's propulsion system.

August 16, 2021  by Associated Press

Boeing’s astronaut capsule is grounded for months and possibly even until next year because of a vexing valve problem.

Boeing and NASA officials said on Aug. 13 that the Starliner capsule will be removed from the top of its rocket and returned to its Kennedy Space Center hangar for more extensive repairs.

Starliner was poised to blast off on a repeat test flight to the International Space Station last week — carrying a mannequin but no astronauts — when the trouble arose. A similar capsule was plagued by software issues in 2019 that prevented it from reaching the space station.

“We’re obviously disappointed,” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager of Boeing’s commercial crew program. “We will fly this test when we’re ready to fly it and it’s safe to do so.”

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Kathy Lueders, head of NASA’s human exploration office, said it’s “another example of why these demo missions are so very important to us…to make sure we have the system wrung out before we put our crews on.”

Boeing’s performance is in stark contrast to that of SpaceX, NASA’s other contracted taxi service. SpaceX has flown 10 astronauts to the space station in just over a year, with four more due to launch aboard the company’s Dragon capsule at the end of October. Elon Musk’s company will mark another first next month when it launches a billionaire into orbit with three guests, two of them contest winners.

Vollmer said moisture in the air somehow infiltrated 13 valves in the capsule’s propulsion system. That moisture combined with a corrosive fuel-burning chemical that had gotten past seals, preventing the valves from opening as required before the Aug. 3 launch attempt.

As of Aug. 13, nine of the valves had been fixed. The other four require more invasive work.