To put it bluntly, Boeing’s attempts at an Orbital Flight Test of their CST-100 Starliner capsule have been a complete wreck. The success of Starliner is imperative so NASA will have redundant systems for access to the ISS, but a delay to 2022 is unsurprising.
OFT-2 delays and issues
The first launch attempt of OFT-2 was unfortunately delayed by Nauka’s unplanned spin-dance with the International Space Station. The delay resulted in the Starliner capsule sitting on Atlas V at Pad 41 through multiple thunderstorms. After the space station had regained attitude control and the issues in orbit were resolved, teams on the ground prepared for a second launch attempt. When undergoing pre-flight checks, an issue was discovered with 13 valves on the Starliner capsule. The rocket and capsule had to be rolled back to the Vertical integration facility to Boeing to fix the valves.
From the moment the rollback was announced, there were rumors and speculation that Starliner would need to be destacked. This was combined with the fact that the upcoming SpaceX CRS-23 would be utilizing the same docking port, making the launch of OFT-2 while the Cargo Dragon 2 is connected to the station impossible. These worries were confirmed when Boeing announced that Starliner would return to the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility. This pushed Starliner well past the launch of CRS-23.
With Starliner back at the facility, ULA will be using the booster originally planned for OFT-2 for the launch of Lucy, a mission to study Trojan asteroids. Boeing is still troubleshooting the root cause. Last month, they said a leak of the propellant reacted with moisture on the dry side of the valves to cause corrosion.
Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for Space Operations Mission Directorate said a decision point is coming when they decide whether to continue with the repair of this service module for OFT-2 or they use a new one. If they decide to use a new module, it would likely be the Crew Flight Test service module.
With Crew Dragon Capsule now in regular operation, the International Space Station will often have full docking ports, so even once Boeing has a Starliner capsule ready, it will have to wait until ULA has launch availability and the ISS has a free docking port.
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