June 25, 2024

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A continuing helium leak is causing additional delays for Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft

A continuing helium leak is causing additional delays for Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft

Boeing plane launch The Starliner spacecraft has already been delayed The capsule will be delayed at least four more days, from next Tuesday to May 25, due to ongoing work to resolve concerns about a small helium leak in the capsule’s propulsion system, officials said Friday.

Mission commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore and co-pilot Sunita Williams now aim to launch from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 3:09 p.m. EDT weekly starting Saturday, and establish a berth at the International Space Station the next day. . Today, May 26 at 4:12 pm

The astronauts had hoped to take off on the first test flight of the Starliner vehicle on May 6, but the countdown has begun. have been cancelled Due to a problem with the oxygen pressure relief valve in the upper stage of the Atlas 5 Centaur rocket.

A Boeing Starliner crew capsule atop the second stage of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket at Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station earlier this month.

United Launch Alliance


The Atlas 5, built by United Launch Alliance, was moved from the pad to the company’s nearby Vertical Integration Facility where the suspicious valve was replaced and cleared for launch.

An unrelated helium leak was observed in the Starliner’s propellant pressure system during the original launch countdown, but remained within safe limits for flight. After Atlas 5 and Starliner were returned to VIF for oxygen valve replacement, managers decided to take a closer look at the helium problem.

The leak was discovered in the tubes that make up the No. 2 helium manifold inside one of four “doghouse” assemblies spread around the outside of the Starliner’s cylinder-shaped service module. Each kennel features four Orbital Maneuver and Attitude Control – OMAC – engines and four Mini Reaction Control jets.

Compressed helium gas is used to push propellant into the rocket engines in each house, as well as four powerful launch abort engines that will only fire in the event of a catastrophic problem with Atlas 5 on its way to orbit.

Engineers tightened bolts into the flange where the leak was discovered, tapped the lines and then ran tests to determine if the leak was still there. Meanwhile, the launch has been retargeted for May 21.

But as it turns out, tests revealed that the leak was still there. Mission managers considered a range of options to solve the problem, but decided on Friday to move forward toward a launch opportunity on May 25, pending additional data reviews and analyzes to show that the leak, which is currently stable and within acceptable limits, will not get worse. On the trip.

“Pressure testing… showed that the leak at the flange is stable and would not pose a risk at this level during flight,” NASA said in a blog post. “Testing also indicated that the rest of the propulsion system is effectively locked down across the entire service module.

“Boeing teams are developing operational procedures to ensure the system maintains sufficient performance capability and adequate redundancy during flight. As this work continues, (mission managers) will take the next few days to review data and procedures to make a final decision.” Before embarking on the countdown to the journey.”

The Atlas 5 and Starliner spacecraft are currently housed at United Launch Alliance’s Vertical Integration Facility, the building seen here behind the rocket when the booster was placed on the launch pad for liftoff earlier this month.

United Launch Alliance


Wilmore and Williams, both veteran Navy test pilots and astronauts with four trips to the station between them, returned to Johnson Space Center in Houston after the May 6 flight to participate in additional flight simulations. They are expected to return to Florida next week.

Starliner is one of two commercially developed crew ferry ships ordered by NASA following the retirement of the shuttle program in 2011. SpaceX won a $2.6 billion contract to develop The company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft Boeing received $4.2 billion to develop Starliner.

NASA wanted spacecraft from different manufacturers to ensure that the agency still had a way to transport astronauts to the space station even if a problem occurred that grounded one company’s ferry.

SpaceX launched its first two-man crew in 2020. Since then, the company has launched eight NASA-sponsored crew rotation flights to the station, three commercial research missions to the laboratory, and a privately funded flight for two men and two women. To low Earth orbit. In all, 50 people flew into space aboard Crew Dragons.

Willmore and Williams will be the first astronauts to fly on the Starliner after a series of technical glitches that included major software problems during an initial uncrewed test flight in December 2019, and corroded propulsion system valves that delayed a second uncrewed test mission in May 2022.

Engineers faced questions about parachute harness connectors and protective tape wrapped around wires posing a short-circuit fire risk. Work to correct those and other issues has delayed the first beta launch to this month.

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