Editor’s note: This blog was updated Oct. 8 to reflect that the team is working toward launch opportunities in the first half of 2022 for Orbital Flight Test-2.
The NASA, Boeing team continues to make progress on the investigation of the oxidizer isolation valve issue on the Starliner service module propulsion system that was discovered ahead of the planned uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission to the International Space Station in August.
I am proud of what our integrated teams have done,” Steve Stich, Manager of the Commercial Crew Program at NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It is complex because it involves hazardous materials and difficult areas that cannot be accessed easily. It has taken a methodical approach and sound engineering to effectively examine.”
Boeing has demonstrated success in valve functionality using localized heating and electrical charging techniques. All but one of the original stuck valves have been moved by engineers and technicians at Kennedy Space Center, the launch complex, and the Starliner factory. To preserve forensics and allow for root cause analysis, the valve was not moved.
Most items on the fault list have been dislocated by the team, including those related to avionics and flight software. Boeing believes that oxidizer and moisture interactions are the most likely causes. Although some verification work is still underway, we have enough confidence to start corrective and preventive measures. To further investigate contributing factors and to determine the system remediation required before flight, additional spacecraft and component testing will take place in the coming weeks.
Boeing performed a partial disassembly last month of three affected Orbital Maneuvering & Attitude Control (OMAC), thruster valves. He plans to remove three more valves from the OFT-2 spacecraft over the next few weeks to allow for further inspection. Additional testing is being considered to replicate the initial valve failures.
Boeing identified several options based on the results of the testing. These paths could be used to resolve the issue and prevent it happening again on future flights. The options include minor refurbishment or use of another service module. Each option depends on the data points that the team will collect over the next weeks, including the timeline to safely return to the launch pad.
Safety of the Starliner spacecraft and crew members is our number one priority,” stated John Vollmer (Vice President and Program Manager, Boeing’s Starliner Program). “We are taking the appropriate amount of time to work through the process now to set this system up for success on OFT-2 and all future Starliner missions.”
Potential launch windows for OFT-2 continue to be assessed by NASA, Boeing, United Launch Alliance, and the Eastern Range. The team is currently working towards opportunities in the first half 2022, subject to hardware readiness, the rocket manifest and availability of a space station.
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