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NASA Postponed Boeing Starliner Return from Space Station Rescheduled Date Awaited

Photo : Reuters

Boeing's Starliner, originally set to return from the International Space Station (ISS) on June 26, faces further delays, NASA announced on Friday, with no new return date provided. This postponement raises uncertainties about the mission's completion, particularly regarding the return of astronauts Butch Wilmore and Sunita Williams.

The crew launched on June 5 in a pivotal test to secure routine flight certification from NASA. Despite being tested twice previously without crew since 2019, the mission encountered setbacks, including five failures of its 28 maneuvering thrusters, multiple helium leaks meant to pressurize these thrusters, and issues with a propellant valve.

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These technical challenges have necessitated additional testing and fixes, casting doubt on when Starliner will safely return its crew to Earth. Boeing's Starliner program has faced a series of difficulties, including software glitches, design flaws, and disputes with subcontractors, leading to significant cost overruns on top of its initial $4.5 billion NASA development contract.

NASA aims for Starliner to join SpaceX's Crew Dragon as a reliable means of transporting astronauts to and from the ISS. However, ongoing issues, such as the recent thruster failures during docking maneuvers on June 6, have complicated this goal. While Boeing managed to revive four out of five malfunctioning thrusters through software updates, these incidents highlight the complexity and criticality of the spacecraft's testing phase.

NASA officials emphasize the need to thoroughly investigate the root causes behind the thruster failures, valve malfunctions, and helium leaks before proceeding with Starliner's return journey, a phase that poses the most intricate challenges yet for the spacecraft.

The agency's flight rules dictate that Starliner must maintain sufficient thruster functionality to ensure "6-degrees of freedom of control," with each thruster backed up by another. This requirement underscores the necessity for robust operational reliability in space missions, particularly during critical maneuvers like docking and re-entry.

As NASA and Boeing continue their efforts to resolve these technical issues, the aerospace community awaits further updates on when Starliner will successfully complete its crewed demonstration mission and contribute to NASA's objectives for reliable crew transportation to the ISS.

June 22, 2024 10:57 a.m. 458

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