Home Tech Starliner faces indefinite wait in space as NASA investigates its failures

Starliner faces indefinite wait in space as NASA investigates its failures

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Starliner faces indefinite wait in space as NASA investigates its failures

in an update Released late Friday, NASA said it was “adjusting” the date of the Starliner spacecraft’s return to Earth from June 26 to an unspecified time in July.

The announcement came after two days of lengthy meetings to review the readiness of the spacecraft, developed by Boeing, to carry NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams to Earth. According to sources, these meetings included high-level participation from senior agency leaders, including Associate Administrator Jim Free.

This “Crew Flight Test,” which launched on June 5 on an Atlas V rocket, was originally scheduled to undock and return to Earth on June 14. However, as NASA and Boeing engineers studied the data from the problematic vehicle flight to the International Space Station, have ruled out several return opportunities.

On Friday night they did it again, citing the need to spend more time reviewing the data.

“Taking our time”

“We are taking our time and following our mission management team’s standard process,” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. in NASA update. “We are letting data drive our decision-making regarding management of small helium system leaks and thruster performance that we observe during rendezvous and docking.”

Just a few days ago, on Tuesday, NASA and Boeing officials set a return to Earth date of June 26. But that was before a series of meetings Thursday and Friday during which mission managers reviewed findings about two major problems with the Starliner spacecraft: five separate leaks in the helium system that pressurizes Starliner’s propulsion system. and the failure of five of the vehicle’s 28 reaction control system thrusters as Starliner approached the station.

NASA’s update did not provide any information about the deliberations during these meetings, but it is clear that agency leaders could not get comfortable with all the contingencies that Wilmore and Williams could encounter during a return flight to Earth, including the safe undocking from space. station, maneuvering, performing an orbit burn, separating the crew capsule from the service module and then flying through the planet’s atmosphere before landing by parachute in a New Mexico desert.

The spacecraft has a limit of 45 days

Now, engineering teams at NASA and Boeing will take more time. Sources said NASA considered June 30 as a possible return date, but the agency is also interested in conducting a pair of spacewalks outside the station. These spacewalks, currently scheduled for June 24 and July 2, will go ahead. Starliner will return to Earth some time later, probably not before the July 4 holiday.

“We are strategically using the additional time to clear the way for some critical station activities while we complete preparation for Butch and Suni’s return on Starliner and gain valuable information on system upgrades we will want to perform for post-certification missions. “Stich said.

In a sense, it is useful for NASA and Boeing to have the Starliner docked to the space station for a longer period of time. They can collect more data on vehicle performance on long-duration missions; Eventually, Starliner will fly operational missions that will allow astronauts to remain in orbit for six months at a time.

However, this vehicle is only rated for a 45-day stay on the space station, and that clock started ticking on June 6. Additionally, it is not optimal for NASA to feel the need to continue delaying the vehicle to feel comfortable with its performance on the return trip to Earth. During a pair of news conferences since Starliner docked at the station, officials downplayed the overall severity of these problems and repeatedly said that Starliner is cleared to return home “in the event of an emergency.” But they have yet to fully explain why they are still not comfortable with releasing Starliner to fly back to Earth under normal circumstances.

This story originally appeared on Ars Technique.

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