NASA is delaying Starliner’s return indefinitely to review propulsion data
Zoom in / Boeing’s Starliner capsule lifts off from United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket.

In an update released Friday evening, NASA said it was “adjusting” the Starliner return date to an unspecified time in July from June 26.

The announcement follows two days of long meetings to review the readiness of the Boeing-built spacecraft that will fly NASA astronauts Butch Willmore and Suni Williams to Earth. According to sources, the meetings included high-level participation from the agency’s senior leaders, including Deputy Administrator Jim Free.

The “Crew Flight Test”, launched on June 5 on an Atlas V rocket, was initially due to disconnect and return to Earth on June 14. However, engineers from NASA and Boeing analyzed data from the vehicle’s complex flight to international space. station, they have waived several return opportunities.

On Friday night, they did so again, citing the need to spend more time reviewing the data.

“Taking Our Time”

“We’re taking our time and following our standard mission management team process,” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Business Team program. In a NASA update. “The small helium system leaks we observed during rendezvous and docking allowed us to take relevant data to manage propulsion performance.”

A few days ago, on Tuesday, NASA and Boeing officials set the return date for June 26. But that was before a series of meetings on Thursday and Friday, during which mission managers were to review findings on two significant issues. Space Shuttle Starliner: Five separate leaks in the helium system stress Starliner’s propulsion system and the failure of five of the vehicle’s 28 reaction-control system thrusters as Starliner approaches the station.

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The NASA update did not provide any information about the deliberations during these meetings, but it is clear that the agency’s leaders were not comfortable with all the contingencies that Wilmore and Williams might face during their return flight to Earth. The station will maneuver, de-orbit burn, separate the crew capsule from the service module, and then fly through the planet’s atmosphere before landing under parachutes in the New Mexico desert.

The shuttle has a limit of 45 days

Now, NASA and Boeing engineering teams will take a little longer. NASA considers June 30 as the return date, but the agency is interested in conducting a pair of spacewalks outside the station. The spacewalks currently scheduled for June 24 and July 2 will now continue. The Starliner will return to Earth a little later, which won’t be before the July 4 holiday.

“We’re strategically using the extra time to clear the way for some important station activities as we complete preparations for Butch and SUNY’s return to Starliner and gain valuable insight into the system upgrades we want to make for post-certification missions,” Stich said.

In a way, it would be helpful for NASA and Boeing to keep the Starliner on the space station for a longer period of time. They will be able to gather more information about the vehicle’s performance on long-duration missions—eventually Starliner will fly operational missions that would allow astronauts to remain in orbit for six months at a time.

However, the vehicle is only rated for a 45-day stay on the space station, and that clock began ticking on June 6. Also, it’s not ideal for NASA to think that the vehicle needs to be constantly delayed to keep the vehicle’s performance comfortable. Return to Earth. During a pair of news conferences since the Starliner arrived at the station, they downplayed the overall severity of these problems — repeatedly saying that the Starliner was allowed to come home “in the event of an emergency.” But they still don’t fully explain why it’s still not convenient to launch the Starliner to fly back to Earth under normal circumstances.

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