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Starliner ready for next crewed test launch attempt

NASA and Boeing say they are ready for a new attempt to launch the company’s CST-100 Starliner with two NASA astronauts on board, following additional checks on the spacecraft’s parachutes and a last-minute cargo swap.

At a briefing on May 31, officials said they were not working on issues with either the Starliner spacecraft or the Atlas 5 launch vehicle ahead of the Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission scheduled for 12:25 a.m. ET on June 1. Forecasts call for a return on June 2, along with a 90% chance of acceptable weather for launch.

Engineers were trying to fix a helium leak in the spacecraft’s engine after clearing the previous launch attempt on May 6. That review also found a “design weakness” in the spacecraft’s propulsion system that could prevent the spacecraft from deorbiting in rare cases.

The agency’s May 29 flight test readiness review approved plans to fix the helium leak and resolve the power plant issue. At the briefing, officials said they were confident the helium leak would not pose a risk to the mission.

“This is a really small leak, and it’s well within the limits we have,” said Steve Stich, NASA’s commercial crew program manager, adding that they could handle the leak even if it were 100 times worse during flight. “We decided the smart thing to do was to go on a mission and that we could do it safely.”

“It’s safe, and so we decided we could fly with what we had,” said Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager for Boeing’s commercial team.

The review also addressed another potential issue that arose during the May 19 launch of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle. During this flight, one of the three parachutes did not fully open as the crew capsule returned to Earth. Stitch said this is a concern because the Starliner parachute system uses similar components. He praised Blue Origin for sharing information on the subject with Boeing and SpaceX, which all use similar elements in their parachutes.

He said that the channel had become stuck at one stage of the “reef”, which gradually inflated the channel because the breaker designed to break the line controlling the reef did not work. A similar cutter is used in Starliner parachutes.

Engineers returned and checked the cutter test data on the Starliner parachutes. “We haven’t seen any problems with any of our cutters” in 160 of their tests, he said. “All the testing to cut the reef line was perfect, so we went ahead. We have good justification for the flight.”

NASA also shifted some of the cargo that would accompany NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suna Williams aboard the Starliner. The agency is sending a new urine processing system pump to the International Space Station after the pump currently installed on the station failed on Wednesday.

Dana Weigel, NASA’s ISS program manager, said the pump is used in a system that turns urine into drinking water. Without this, station crews would have to store urine instead with a limited number of bags and tanks. According to him, instead of two suitcases with clothes and hygiene items for station staff, the pump weighing about 70 kilograms will fly. He noted that the station had “general” supplies for the crew that could replace the contents of these suitcases.

NASA astronaut Mike Finke, a backup to the CFT mission and assigned to Starliner-1, the spacecraft’s first operational mission, said Wilmore and Williams were briefed on the investigation into the helium leak and the structural weakness of the propulsion system. They applauded what NASA and Boeing are doing to address these problems.

“I think if you asked Butch and Suna directly, and I could answer for them, they would feel very comfortable and confident that we were on the right track,” he said. “We are excited and confident about launching this mission.”

Source: Port Altele



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