Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Starliner Crewed Test Flight Now Suspended "Indefinitely"

Word broke late Tuesday that Saturday's planned launch attempt for the Starliner Crewed Flight Test (CFT-1) has been cancelled with no word on a next date to attempt the flight. The issue is still the helium leak that they've been talking about since the first scrub during the countdown to a scheduled May 6 launch.  

The space agency did not describe what options are on the table, but sources said they range from flying the spacecraft "as is" with a thorough understanding of the leak and confidence it won't become more significant in flight, to removing the capsule from its Atlas V rocket and taking it back to a hangar for repairs.

Theoretically, the former option could permit a launch attempt as soon as next week. The latter alternative could delay the launch until at least late summer.

"The team has been in meetings for two consecutive days, assessing flight rationale, system performance, and redundancy," NASA said in a statement Tuesday night. "There is still forward work in these areas, and the next possible launch opportunity is still being discussed. NASA will share more details once we have a clearer path forward."

Astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams returned to their homes in Houston when the last reschedule was announced, so their visit will be extended for an unknown duration.

Of concern to me is that prior report said they had replaced the valve that was the initial concern and yet the problem is still there - implying the valve wasn't the only problem present or maybe even wasn't bad at all. 

ULA returned the Atlas V rocket to its hangar, where technicians swapped out the faulty valve in time for another launch attempt May 17. NASA and Boeing pushed the launch date back to May 21, then to May 25, as engineers assessed the helium leak. The Atlas V rocket and Starliner spacecraft remain inside ULA's Vertical Integration Facility to wait for the next launch opportunity.

Boeing engineers traced the leak to a flange on a single reaction control system thruster in one of four doghouse-shaped propulsion pods on the Starliner service module.

There are 28 of these reaction control system - or RCS - thrusters, small rocket engines on the capsule's service module. These thrusters are used for minor course corrections and control of the capsule's orientation. The service module also has dual sets of larger engines used for larger orbital adjustments. 

As has been mentioned before, a consideration in scheduling this mission has to be the ISS' schedule. Briefly, their best chances for this Starliner flight are before July, after which it gets a bit busier and harder to work with. Add to that concern is that ULA needs that launch pad for other missions, too. They plan to launch a US Space Force mission before the end of the summer; it will be the last mission to use an Atlas V rocket. They also plan to launch the second demonstration flight of their Vulcan Centaur rocket, most likely carrying Sierra Space's Dream Chaser, hopefully as soon as September.

The CFT-1 Starliner Capsule on top of its Atlas V ride at the SLC-41 launch pad. Image Credit: ULA on Flickr


EDIT 0740 AM EDT MAY 23 to add:  As of this morning, Next Spaceflight is showing the launch has been scheduled for next Saturday, June 1 at 12:25 PM EDT.


  1. I have been thinking that the number of potential launches by numerous companies have exceeded, or nearly so, the capacity to launch.
    So, the solution for now is to push aside those in the queue but not able to keep the schedule.

    Prior to that, I've thought it somewhat absurd to site launch facilities in so many different locales. It's got to be double digits the number of U.S. states that have at least one space port.
    Perhaps a better answer is pooling resources for larger capacity sited to fewer locations.

    1. Big rockets tend to be launched, in the US of A, over water. So all those land-locked spaceports are just fantasy at this time. And there's only so many active launch pads at the Cape or at Wallops or at Vandenberg.

      SpaceX is looking for either build a completely new launch complex at the Cape or take over the Atlas pad from ULA.

    2. As Beans said, "over water." In China, they launch from inland and drop boosters onto whatever or whomever happens to be there. The only outfits that launch from more than a couple of miles inland are Blue Origin's suborbital flights in Texas and Virgin Galactic in New Mexico, but theirs are under the wing of plane.

      And, yeah, expansion of Cape Canaveral is a regular topic around here. Billions of dollars are being talked about.

    3. Both BO and Virgin launch in basically endless wastelands. And the first time one craters carrying passengers will be the end of flights launched over land. BO already freaked out the normies when they lost one launch.

  2. So '4 days to fix the issue' has now slid to 'sometime within the next 10 years.' Sigh.

  3. "If it's Boeing, you ain't going."

    But, on the plus sign, their engineering staff is diverse!

  4. Got a simple fix suggestion for them. Leave the leaks, no worries, but place a valve or couple of them, be manual valves too, in line pre leaky valves, so your not losing all your reactor control gas. Simple, astronaut reaches up, turns valve on, turns it off when done. Presto! Problem is history. Launch the darn thing already.

  5. This whole thing is getting embarrassing.
    I am starting to suspect its either deliberate, or malfeasance of a higher order. They know the vehicle system is not human flight certifiable, going further out on a branch, essentially they absconded with hundreds of billions of our tax dollars, you can be rest assured there where zero issues or failures on that end where the leadership bank accounts are concerned. Gave us basically, what is a piece of s#%t Appolo do-over, which they can inky launch on left over 70's designed boosters, they ran out of RD180 Rusky engines, (they could not even build reasonably decent even lower thrust but reliable copies of them, when they had the real McCoys to reverse engineer), cause that was all the money left over after all the fingers in the pie where done stealing most of the funds.

    Why I say that?
    Because pattern in detail is why. A pattern of details which reveal a pattern of corporate failures always similar which do not to fail to do the same thing every time. Thats not failures, that is success.

    Never mind the glaring ten million pound 33 rocket engine Gorilla in the room named SpaceX.

    1. Anon, your last sentenced triggered a kind-of related thought train - ""Rockets of Unusual Size? I don't believe in them!" (Think of the character Wesley (the new Dread Pirate Roberts) in Princess Bride). After he said that, the RUS attacked him.
      Kinda acts like that's what's happening with regards to the RUS known as SpaceX...

  6. It would appear now, that Dream Chaser just might actually beat Starliner to space!
    Seppuku, thy target is Boeing Management!