The company said Friday that Boeing’s Starliner space capsule, which was scheduled to cancel its liftoff to the International Space Station last week due to problems discovered in the propulsion system, will have to return to the factory for repair.
This new setback is delaying this crucial test flight for Boeing and NASA for at least several months.
Boeing said in a statement that the capsule will be removed from the top of the Atlas 5 rocket and returned to the Kennedy Center plant in Florida for inspection.
It’s probably “too early to say” whether such an unmanned test flight could take place this year, John Vollmer, vice president and director of Boeing’s Commercial Aviation Program, said at a press conference.
Boeing added in its statement that four valves in the propulsion system were “still shut” despite technicians’ efforts to fix the problem.
This is a huge fiasco for the group, which continues its setbacks with Starliner.
The capsule was to be one of two, along with SpaceX, to once again allow NASA to direct its astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) from US soil. Since the space shuttles closed in 2011, the space agency has already relied on Russian rockets.
If SpaceX has already sent at least a dozen astronauts to the International Space Station, including Frenchman Thomas Pesquet, Boeing will still have to pass its first unmanned test flight, which should prove that the capsule is safe.
This test flight was first attempted in 2019, but then came close to disaster, due to a software issue.
The Starliner must have returned to Earth prematurely, and a later investigation showed that the capsule nearly suffered a serious flight anomaly as it re-entered the atmosphere.
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