Aug 13, 2021 - Economy & Business

Boeing's Starliner to return to factory after valve issue scrubs test launch

Boeing's Starliner spacecraft atop a United Launch Alliance rocket on a lunch pad in July 2021 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
Boeing's Starliner spacecraft atop a United Launch Alliance rocket on a lunch pad in July 2021 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Photo: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Boeing's Starliner spacecraft will be returned to a factory to fix four stuck propulsion system valves that forced the company to scrub an uncrewed test launch of the capsule last week, the company announced Friday.

Why it matters: The Starliner — designed to one day carry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station — has been repeatedly troubled by technical malfunctions, and its latest mission has been delayed multiple times.

Before the test flight last week, Boeing discovered that 13 propulsion system valves were not functioning, forcing it to delay the test for a new launch date that has yet to be announced.

  • Boeing engineers restored nine of the 13 malfunctioning valves over the past week and a half, but four remained locked shut, the company said Thursday.

What they're saying: “Mission success in human spaceflight depends on thousands of factors coming together at the right time,” John Vollmer, vice president of Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program, said in a statement Friday.

  • “We’ll continue to work the issue from the Starliner factory and have decided to stand down for this launch window to make way for other national priority missions," he added.

Thought bubble, via Axios' Miriam Kramer: Boeing's development of its Starliner has been plagued by problems, and this is yet another setback for the long-time NASA contractor.

The big picture: The company failed to get its Starliner to the station during its first uncrewed test flight — which also had been delayed — in December 2019 after a serious, post-launch malfunction occurred with an automated clock in the vehicle that is designed to keep the spacecraft on track while in space.

  • The company came close to losing the vehicle during that test flight, Kramer reports.

Go deeper: What comes next after the International Space Station ends

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