Boeing is a long-time government contractor that has had a hand in some of the most important space exploration missions in human history. That includes, but is not limited to, the Apollo lunar rover, numerous International Space Station modules, and the Saturn V rocket. With all that experience, you’d think Boeing would have a good handle on the CST-100 Starliner, but it just can’t catch a break. The company has announced yet another launch cancellation, this time thanks to a faulty fuel valve.
The Starliner was scheduled to launch today (August 3rd) at 1:20 PM ET. However, engineers inspecting the vessel prior to the big moment detected “unexpected valve position indications in the propulsion system.” The mission, which was set to be Boeing’s long-awaited demo do-over, was scrubbed out of an abundance of caution.
Boeing has encountered problem after problem as it attempts to get the Starliner off the ground, both literally and figuratively. For most of the Commercial Crew Program, Boeing was running neck and neck with SpaceX, but Elon Musk’s aerospace firm started to pull ahead almost exactly three years ago when Boeing found a leak in the vessel’s fuel lines. That delayed the first uncrewed demo flight, allowing SpaceX to get into orbit first. Starliner experienced a series of delays after that, pushing the launch to late 2019.
We're standing down from today's #Starliner Orbital Flight Test-2 launch.
During pre-launch preparations, our engineers detected unexpected valve position indications in the propulsion system.
Read the full statement: https://t.co/uQBjvq8ObU pic.twitter.com/4X2INbZj7Q
— Boeing Space (@BoeingSpace) August 3, 2021
Boeing still has not successfully completed the 2019 demo flight (Boe-OFT). A system failure caused the capsule to miss its rendezvous with the ISS, and NASA eventually insisted on a successful test (OFT-2) before it would allow crewed flights. The pandemic slowed progress on the do-over as well. Boeing wanted to launch several days ago, but a glitch in the station’s new Russian module prevented that, and now there’s another fuel system issue.
It is possible Boeing will be able to schedule a new launch for tomorrow (August 4th), indicating the problem relates to instrumentation rather than a real problem with the hardware. Boeing will have to complete a crewed demo after this, once the Starliner can successfully launch atop its Atlas V rocket, dock at the station, and then return to Earth. At that point, Boeing will be caught up to SpaceX, which has been flying astronauts to and from the ISS for months. If the company can get the capsule fully tested this year, the first official crewed mission (Starliner-1) could happen as soon as Q2 2022.