NASA Contractor Urges Grounding Boeing Spacecraft Over ‘Risk of Disaster’

By Lydia Amazouz Published on May 10, 2024 14:18
Boeing Starliner Crewed Flight Delayed Indefinitely

Following a last-minute delay of the Boeing Starliner's inaugural trip earlier this week, a NASA contractor has warned the space agency that potentially dangerous flaws may still exist in the Atlas V rocket.

What is the Boeing Starliner?

The Starliner is Boeing's quest to replace the space shuttle and perhaps enter the sector of space travel because it can go to and return from orbit. It competes with similar offers from SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin. One significant aspect of the Starliner, as demonstrated during prior test flights, is its ability to return to Earth on land rather than in the ocean.

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When will the Starliner Launch?

After a series of difficult test flights and continued issues with its commercial aviation wing, Boeing will have to wait a bit longer before flying people on its Starliner capsule for the first time.

According to United Launch Alliance, the corporation behind the Atlas V rocket that will lift the capsule into space, the next launch attempt will not take place before Friday.

Boeing's Starliner project has been beset by delays and design issues for several years.

The Starliner failed to reach the I.S.S. during its first trip in 2019 because its internal clock was mistakenly calibrated, causing a computer to activate the capsule's engines too soon. Despite the fact that some thrusters failed during the launch, the spacecraft successfully docked with the I.S.S. during its subsequent test flight in 2022.

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NASA Contractor Urges Postponement of Boeing Starliner Launch Over Safety Concerns

NASA postponed the crewed debut voyage of the Boeing Starliner on Monday, just two hours before its scheduled launch at Kennedy Space Center. On Wednesday, space agency contractor ValveTech openly appealed for the launch to be postponed until the Starliner is declared safe, warning of a possible disaster.

The delay was required to repair a pressure regulation valve on the Atlas V rocket's liquid oxygen tank. NASA will not try another launch no sooner than May 17.

NASA announced that Monday's flight was canceled due to "the oscillating behavior of the valve during prelaunch operations." The valve was closed during preparations to reduce buzzing, but it occurred twice more during fuel removal operations. According to ValveTech, this oscillating behavior could be a symptom of a larger problem.

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ValveTech President Erin Faville stated in a release: “As a valued NASA partner and as valve experts, we strongly urge them not to attempt a second launch due to the risk of a disaster occurring on the launchpad. According to media reports, a buzzing sound indicating the leaking valve was noticed by someone walking by the Starliner minutes before launch. This sound could indicate that the valve has passed its lifecycle.”

“NASA needs to re-double safety checks and re-examine safety protocols to make sure the Starliner is safe before something catastrophic happens to the astronauts and to the people on the ground.”

In September 2014, NASA awarded Boeing a $4.2 billion Commercial Crew Transportation contract, with SpaceX receiving $2.6 billion. The Starliner's first crewed launch was originally scheduled for 2017. Nevertheless, development delays and technical issues pushed the launch back to this month. The postponements have cost Boeing $1.5 billion in costs.

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While the Starliner has struggled, the Atlas V rocket has been operational since 2002. Lockheed Martin designed the Atlas V, which is now manufactured by the United Launch Alliance, an alliance between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The rocket is nearing the end of its life, with only 17 more launches before being replaced by the ULA's Vulcan, the collaboration's first new rocket design.

ValveTech's fears stem from the fact that a disaster would imperil the lives of astronauts Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams, as well as everyone on the ground. Boeing's quality control issues would reach unprecedented proportions, surpassing a blown-out door plug on an Alaska Airlines flight, shoddily manufactured airliners, and two dead whistleblowers.

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An editor specializing in astronomy and space industry, passionate about uncovering the mysteries of the universe and the technological advances that propel space exploration.

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