The Boeing Starliner is not having easy to take off (literally and metaphorically). The project of the aeronautical giant is having to face problems that are delaying its first unmanned flight to and from the International Space Station. This test is a key milestone in its development, as it will be the one that, when carried out, will confirm that the ship is ready to carry out its first manned missions to transfer personnel to and from the station.
The last canceled test of the Starliner, as we already told you, took place in August, and although the plans of Boeing and NASA were to be able to carry out this test this year, the passing of the months has made it clear to us that it would not be like this in the end. And we received the final confirmation just a week ago, when the US space agency confirmed a new contract with SpaceX for three flights that will take place in 2022. In this way, it became clear that, at least in the short term, the agency will not he is counting on being able to use the Starliner.
What we have been waiting all this time has been, of course, to know when the pending test with the Boeing ship would take place. And finally we have good news, since according to a NASA statement, Boeing would have finally been able to fix the Statliner problems, and its test flight would take place in May 2022.. And to achieve this, the company has made a Solomonic decision, to replace the entire service module of the ship.
Hours before the canceled test flight in August, several valves in the service module, responsible for providing power and propulsion to the spacecraft, began to fail. At first it was thought to be a one-time failure, so the test was postponed one day, but a more detailed examination showed that the Starliner had serious problems with these valves and the fuel storage and management system, mainly with the management of the oxidant, which forced to suspend the test and carry out an in-depth analysis of the service module.
In the original planning of the test program, the service module to be used in the unmanned test was different from the one that would be equipped on the ship for manned flights. Thus, the decision made by Boeing and NASA has been dispense with this service module that has caused problems and instead use the ones that were planned for future Starliner tests.
«NASA has been working closely with Boeing on the service module valve investigation, bringing the agency’s expertise in materials and propellants to better characterize possible causes of the problem.“Said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “Thanks to the combined work, we have a better understanding of the causes that led to valve problems and ways to prevent it from happening in the future. Boeing continues to diligently rely on data for its decision making, which is key to ensuring the Starliner system is ready when we conduct our test missions in 2022. «.
This decision, together with the support shown to the Starliner by NASA during all this time, are reasons for Boeing to breathe a sigh of relief. And it is that the company is at stake, of course, but it is no less true that the possibility of having two contractors, SpaceX and Boeing, for this type of mission, is in turn a source of great tranquility for the US space agency, which would thus cease to depend exclusively on Elon Musk’s company.