Boeing’s Starliner astronaut taxi remains on track to launch on a crucial test flight to the International Space Station on Thursday (May 19).
Teams with NASA, Boeing, and the United Launch Alliance (ULA) today (May 17) conducted a launch readiness review of Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2), which will send an unmanned aircraft starliner on a bumpy cruise to the orbiting lab. All went well, keeping Starliner on course to take off over a ULA Atlas V Rocket Thursday at 6:54 pm EDT (22:54 GMT) from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
“It was brief; it was very clean. There’s really no problem with ULA, Boeing or NASA working on the next launch,” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, during a press conference today, referring to to review. . “We’re at that point now where it’s time to fly the Starliner.”
In pictures: Boeing’s OFT-2 Starliner mission in pictures
It took longer to get to this point than NASA, Boeing, or ULA had imagined. OFT-2 was originally supposed to launch last summer, but technicians discovered during a routine pre-flight check that 13 of the 24 oxidizer valves in Starliner’s propulsion system were stuck.
It took about eight months to fully diagnose and address the valve problem, which was caused by a reaction between the oxidant nitrogen tetroxide and moisture in the air. This reaction produced nitric acid, which then reacted with the aluminum casing of the valves to create corrosion products that hampered valve operation, Boeing representatives said.
Boeing has mitigated the OFT-2 problem by sealing the valves from the humid Florida air, purging the system with nitrogen gas, and repeatedly cycling the valves to ensure normal operation. But the company can make more substantial adjustments in the long run.
“There will be some changes; we just have to select what those changes will be,” said Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program, during today’s press conference. “The valve redesign is certainly on the table, and the teams are working on some of those options.”
If OFT-2 goes as planned, Starliner will launch on Thursday and arrive at the space station just over 24 hours later. The capsule will spend four to five days docked with the orbiting lab, then return to Earth for a parachute-assisted landing in the western US.
The main goal is to show that Starliner is ready to transport astronauts to and from the station for NASA, which signed a contract with Boeing for such taxi services in 2014. spacex it has a similar agreement with the space agency and has already launched four operational manned missions to the orbiting laboratory with its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule.
As its name suggests, OFT-2 will be Starliner’s second chance at a space station reunion. During the first attempt, in December 2019, the spacecraft suffered a number of software bugs and got stuck in the wrong orbit for a rendezvous with the orbiting lab.
Mike Wall is the author of “out there(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; Illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @migueldwall. Follow us on twitter @Spacepointcom or in Facebook.