Everything is ready for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to fly to the International Space Station for the first time. The Starliner is scheduled to lift off on a ULA Atlas V rocket on Thursday, May 19 at 22:54 UTC.
In this uncrewed test mission, Boeing will have to demonstrate to NASA that the Starliner is able to dock and undock from the International Space Station autonomously and safely to perform the atmospheric reentry of astronauts as part of the commercial crew program.
It’s the same test that SpaceX’s Crew Dragon ship successfully completed in March 2019, but the Boeing capsule didn’t suffer the same fate. On its maiden flight in December 2019, the Starliner was unable to dock with the International Space Station due to an incorrectly set clock and two critical software failures. In July 2021, a second orbital test flight was canceled because 13 of the spacecraft’s propulsion system’s 24 oxidizer valves failed to open during ground testing.
The valves were corroded, but Boeing then did not find the cause of the problem. now a report of Reuters discovers the dispute between the company and one of its main suppliers, Aerojet Rocketdyne, over the valves.
According to the report, there is disagreement between Boeing and Aerojet over the root cause of the problem. Boeing believes that the valves stuck due to a chemical reaction between the oxidizer, the aluminum parts and moisture intrusion at the launch site (Kennedy Space Center in Florida). Aerojet engineers and lawyers blame a cleaning chemical that Boeing used during its ground tests.
Boeing argues that Aerojet failed to meet one of its contractual requirements: to make the Starliner’s propulsion system strong enough to withstand such chemical reactions. NASA is on your side.
Boeing sources have commented privately that Aerojet’s explanation for the valve problem is an attempt to deflect responsibility for Starliner’s costly delay and avoid paying for a redesigned valve system, Reuters says. That said, Boeing has not redesigned the valves in the nine months since testing. With NASA’s approval, the company implemented a temporary solution to prevent moisture from seeping into this part of the spacecraft before getting to work on a complete overhaul, which it does not exclude.
In any case, this is not the first dispute between Boeing and one of the Starliner suppliers. The company has settled with Timothy Lachenmeier, chairman of a company called NearSpace, after the man lost a leg during a parachute test.
In 2017, Lachenmeier and his team they were preparing the starliner to test the ship’s parachutes during a hot air balloon flight at an altitude of 12 km. The Starliner was tethered to the ground. Lachenmeier was on a ladder beside the pod making adjustments when the balloon’s wire cutters activated prematurely and lifted the craft upwards, causing the ladder to fall to one side. Lachenmeier fell from a height of six meters. After four months of medical procedures, he had his right leg amputated below the knee. In a lawsuit filed in 2020, the man alleged that Boeing provided him with the ladders he used in the test and that they were banned from the company for two years “because they knew they were could cause catastrophic injury.
Beyond these disputes with its suppliers, Boeing faces a huge image problem with the CST-100 Starliner. The spacecraft was supposed to compete with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon to deliver astronauts to low Earth orbit from US soil, but the Crew Dragon has already completed five manned flights for NASA and two for private companies, while the Starliner hasn’t. hasn’t flown yet. with the International Space Station for its uncrewed test.
For the sanity of Boeing engineers and the company’s finances, let’s hope Thursday’s test goes well. Boeing has racked up $595 million in cost overruns on the Starliner program since 2019. The money is coming out of its pocket, since the contract with NASA is fixed price.