[Update: Delayed past NASA Lucy mission] Boeing stands down from current Starliner launch window, returning spacecraft to factory

Starliner Capsule secured to Atlas Rocket

Update: In a press conference Boeing and NASA detailed why they will be moving Starliner back to their factory and the next possible launch opportunities.


The ongoing saga that is Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft takes another unfortunate turn today. Boeing has announced that it will return Starliner to its factory after experiencing hardware issues that prevented a launch attempt.

Starliner is Boeing’s spacecraft designed to send astronauts to the International Space Station. Both Boeing and SpaceX were tapped to fill the gap left by the retired Space Shuttle Program under a new program called Commercial Crew.

SpaceX is already operational with its Crew Dragon capsule and has multiple missions under its belt. Boeing has faced unexpected challenges, however, starting with an unsuccessful attempt to send Starliner to the ISS without crew onboard.

Starliner must first complete an uncrewed demonstration mission before it can attempt to fly astronauts in a crewed spaceflight mission.

Boeing put their heads down across 2020 and remedied issues that contributed to the failed attempt to reach the ISS in 2019, and this year progress has been slowed due to COVID-19, natural disasters, and scheduling conflicts at the ISS with limited number of docking stations.

Starliner was hours from lifting off earlier this month when the launch was postponed due to propulsion valve issues possibly caused by thunderstorms the day before launch was planned.

Here’s the latest from Boeing on Starliner’s progress:

Today, Boeing informed NASA that the company will destack its CST-100 Starliner from the Atlas V rocket and return the spacecraft to the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) for deeper-level troubleshooting of four propulsion system valves that remain closed after last Tuesday’s scrubbed launch.

Starliner has sat atop the Atlas V rocket in ULA’s Vertical Integration Facility since August 4, where Boeing teams have worked to restore functionality to the affected valves.

The relocation of the spacecraft to the C3PF will require Boeing, NASA and United Launch Alliance to agree on a new launch date once the valve issue is resolved.

“Mission success in human spaceflight depends on thousands of factors coming together at the right time,” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager, Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program. “We’ll continue to work the issue from the Starliner factory and have decided to stand down for this launch window to make way for other national priority missions.”

via Boeing

OFT-2 delayed at least past NASA’s Lucy mission

In a press conference on Friday, NASA and Boeing officials discussed details on the delay of Boeing’s OFT-2 mission. The representative from Boeing shared that they have been able to resolve all but 4 valves to normal functionality. To be able to find the full reason for the valve failures and to fix these final 4, Boeing will be moving the Starliner capsule to their factory at Kennedy Space Center for further work.

This delay will mean Boeing will miss their launch window and will now have to wait for the next opportunity, most likely several months away. There are several reasons why they have to wait to launch their test flight. First, Boeing needs to demonstrate they understand and have fixed the valve problem, something that has not shown up in any past tests including OFT-1. Second, SpaceX will be launching their CRS-23 mission to the space station end of this month and they will need the same docking port Boeing uses. Finally, ULA needs to begin their launch preparations for two major national launches in the coming months.

NASA’s Lucy mission is intended to launch on an Atlas V to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids later this year. Its 16-day launch window begins on October 16th. ULA also has a Department of Defense mission, STP-3, to launch this year as well. NASA has stated its focus is turning to their Lucy, CRS-23, and Crew-3 missions but no word from ULA as to whether they will focus on STP-3 or Lucy first after Starliner is destacked from their rocket.

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