NASA and Boeing have now revealed the date for the uncrewed test flight of their CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to orbit the International Space Station. It will take place in the first half 2022.
The Starliners' next Orbital Flight Test-2 mission was up and running since August. However, a technical problem involving 13 oxygen valves in the spacecraft's propulsion system caused the space agency to lose countdown. Officials from the company had to cancel their plans. These valves are connected to Starliners thrusters which control in-orbit maneuvering and abort functions.
NASA stated at that time that the test would take place after the launch of Lucy's asteroid probe. This probe is scheduled to go into orbit on Saturday, October 16. Boeing was not so certain it could be done this year.
It seems that Boeing was correct in the end. NASA and Boeing will collaborate with United Launch Alliance, which manufactures the Atlas V rocket, to analyze potential flight opportunities next year. They will also be working alongside the Eastern Range, the Space Force entity responsible for East Coast launches.
NASA, Boeing and United Launch Alliance continue to evaluate potential launch windows for OFT-2, officials from NASA wrote in a blog update. The team is currently looking for opportunities in the first half 2022, subject to hardware readiness, the rocket manifest and availability of a space station.
NASA stated that Boeing and NASA officials are continuing to work together on the oxidizer valve problem. Boeing found that the most likely cause of the problem is related to moisture and oxidizer interactions.
NASA explained that Boeing has shown success with valve functionality by using localized heating techniques and electrical charging techniques. NASA explained that all of the original stuck valves have been moved by troubleshooting at Kennedy Space Center, the launch complex and the Starliner factory. To preserve forensics and for analysis of the root cause, that valve was not moved.
Boeing will conduct spacecraft and component testing over the next few weeks to determine the cause of the valve failure. It will also remove three valves from spacecraft to allow for further inspection.
According to the company's tests, there are several options that can be taken, depending on how the results of those tests. According to NASA's update, these solutions include minor refurbishment to the existing service module and use of another module in production.
Starliner is part of a NASA program to transport astronauts from the ISS. It has only done one uncrewed test flight. This seems like a long time ago. It reached space in 2019, but was unable to get to the ISS because of a software problem.
NASA currently has only two options for sending astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS): Russian spacecraft or SpaceXs Crew Dragon.