Launch in limbo, Atlas 5 rocket hauled again to hangar for Starliner troubleshooting

The Atlas 5 rocket carrying Boeing’s hard-luck Starliner capsule was hauled off its Cape Canaveral launch pad Thursday and again to a processing facility for work to determine what induced valve issues that derailed a launch attempt Tuesday.

Relying on what engineers uncover, the Atlas 5 may, in idea, be hauled again out to the pad for an additional launch attempt late this weekend or early subsequent week. However that assumes a simple repair and NASA concurrence with no matter “flight rationale” emerges from the troubleshooting.

In any case, with the rocket and capsule again inside United Launch Alliance’s processing facility, engineers will start inspections of thruster modules, or “doghouses,” on the Starliner’s service module to seek out out why some propellant line valves had been discovered within the unsuitable positions throughout pre-launch assessments.

United Launch Alliance hauled an Atlas 5 rocket carrying Boeing’s Starliner house station ferry ship off its launch pad and again to a processing facility for work to pin down what induced valve issues within the capsule’s propulsion system to triggered a launch scrub final Tuesday.


The problem was first detected final Monday within the wake of torrential rain and thunderstorms that swept throughout Cape Canaveral, drenching the uncovered Atlas 5 and Starliner capsule.

One doable perpetrator within the valve downside is water intrusion within the thruster housings. As well as, a close-by lightning strike throughout the storm required retesting of delicate elements, nevertheless it’s not recognized what influence, if any, that may have had.

One complicating issue within the troubleshooting: not all the thruster modules might be reached and inspected whereas the Starliner stays atop the Atlas 5. However a fancy sequence of assessments is deliberate which will isolate the issue and supply a path ahead to launch.

“Kudos to the @BoeingSpace and @NASA groups for working to look at the reason for #Starliner’s sudden valve place indications,” tweeted Kathy Lueders, NASA’s director of spaceflight operations. “It is necessary to take no matter time crucial to make sure that Starliner is prepared for its milestone flight take a look at to the @Space_Station”

Given the Starliner’s first unpiloted take a look at flight in December 2019 was marred by main software program issues that blocked plans to rendezvous with the Worldwide Area Station, a call to proceed with a second take a look at flight would require excessive confidence the valve situation has been resolved.

If engineers decide the Starliner should be faraway from the Atlas 5 and brought again to Boeing’s industrial crew processing facility for extra inspections, the long-awaited flight shall be delayed indefinitely, presumably to late this yr due to different, higher-priority missions awaiting launch.

In that case, the Starliner’s booster can be “destacked,” or taken aside, and put in storage whereas one other Atlas 5 is assembled to launch one of many downstream flights.

In contrast to archrival SpaceX, which might hearth off its Falcon 9 rockets from two Cape Canaveral launch pads, United Launch Alliance has only one Atlas 5 pad, Launch Complicated 41, on the Cape Canaveral Area Power Station.

The place the Starliner flight may match again into a really busy fall launch schedule stays to be seen.

NASA and Northrop Grumman plan to launch an unpiloted Cygnus cargo ship from Wallops Island, Virginia, subsequent Tuesday to ship wanted provides and tools to the Worldwide Area Station. SpaceX plans to comply with go well with on August 28, launching a Dragon cargo ship from the Kennedy Area Middle.

The Dragon will occupy the station’s ahead docking port, the identical one wanted by the Starliner, by the tip of September.

Within the meantime, United Launch Alliance should stack one other Atlas 5 to launch NASA’s high-priority Lucy asteroid probe. To succeed in its goal, Lucy should take off throughout a 22-day planetary “launch window” opening October 16. If not, the flight shall be delayed a full yr whereas Earth and the probe’s asteroid targets return to favorable positions.

Complicating NASA’s schedule, the Russians plan to launch a three-person Soyuz crew ferry ship to the station on October 5. A SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, carrying 4 astronauts, is scheduled for launch to the house station on October 31.

Going into Tuesday’s launch attempt, it was thought Boeing might be able to launch the primary piloted flight of a Starliner by late this yr or early subsequent.

But when the second take a look at flight doesn’t get off the bottom within the subsequent week or so, the flight presumably would slip into the November-December timeframe, delaying the capsule’s first piloted flight nicely into 2022.

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