Boeing Starliner’s Inaugural Manned Flight Postponed Yet Again Due to Technical Hurdles

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket sits on the launch pad of Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Saturday, June 1, 2024
Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is visible on the launch pad of Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Saturday, June 1, 2024.

Once more, the scheduled crewed launch of the Boeing Starliner has been canceled at the eleventh hour. Today’s launch was halted 3 minutes and 50 seconds before liftoff due to a ground system issue. This marks the second time the inaugural crewed mission utilizing the Starliner has been called off just before liftoff, following a previous attempt on May 6 that was canceled due to a different rocket problem.

Following the May cancellation, additional Starliner issues, including a helium leak, have surfaced, causing multiple delays to today’s planned launch. However, the issues from before did not contribute to today’s cancellation, as stated by Steve Stich, head of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, during a post-launch briefing.

“We encountered a problem with the ground launch sequencer inside four minutes,” Stich explained.

Two incidents occurred with the ground system: initially, a set of valves failed to open correctly. Tony Bruno, CEO of United Launch Alliance, reassured that these valves are triple redundant, ensuring the crew’s safety. The second issue involved the ground launch system responsible for releasing the rocket during liftoff. This system is also triple redundant, requiring all three computer systems to be operational for a launch — one of these systems experienced a delay in authorizing a health check, leading to the automatic cancellation of the launch.

“Our next step is to physically access that computer and investigate the cause,” Bruno mentioned, a task that must wait until the rocket is defueled. Engineers should be able to address the issue within the next few hours. If the solution is straightforward, the launch could proceed tomorrow. However, if it proves more complex, further delays are possible. Backup launch dates are set for Wednesday, June 5, Thursday, June 6, and Sunday, June 2.

The goal is for the Boeing Starliner to complement the SpaceX Dragon in ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Following the retirement of the Space Shuttle, NASA relied on Russian spacecraft for astronaut transport until the crewed test flight of the SpaceX Dragon in 2020. NASA now aims to have multiple options for transportation, reducing reliance on a single provider.

“Having two redundant space transportation systems is crucial for us,” Stich emphasized. He noted that today’s launch was nearly successful: “The vehicles were prepared; we were just unfortunate to encounter a ground card issue.”

Valentina Rogers

Valentina is a tech-savvy wordsmith, blending her expertise in digital trends with a talent for crafting compelling stories that resonate with readers of all backgrounds.

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