Starliner launch is delayed due to the blockage of propellant valves

Boeing’s Starliner was very near to the launch on its second test flight without a crew in early August but the spacecraft’s propulsion system had the valves blocked caused a launch issue, which is making the launch delay until the next year.

In a recent interview, Boeing vice president and program manager of the commercial crew program talked about the delay which was hard to take on. The corporation had worked for a year and a half to talk about the software issues which delayed the first test flight also without a crew, known as Orbital Flight Test (OFT), which was canceled back in December 2019. They had put the plan to be tested thoroughly.

Boeing is working on the problem that blocked 13 valves. The main issue could be the leaked nitrogen tetroxide (NTO) propellant which might have mixed with moisture and composed into nitric oxide, which rusted the valve.

It is a huge mess to go through and find the actual cause. And it’s almost 75% through the mess. The research is being done by a team from NASA. Aerojet Rocketdyne is what manufactures the propulsion system on the Starliner, and Marotta manufactures the valves in that same propulsion system.

The next step in the research will be to get rid of the blockage in spacecraft’s valves. According to Michelle Parker, vice president and chief engineer of space and launch engineering at Boeing, the valves will be sent back to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center for CT scans and other tests.

The most difficult thing is to find how the corrosion started on this spacecraft since it was not detected in the spacecraft’s first uncrewed test flight.

Everyone is looking into the problem. These are the similar valves having the same numbers that have been adopted in the service module called hot-fire, pad abort test in New Mexico, and also the OFT-1. Those valves have not been altered in any way.

One possibility is that the company said that the OFT-2 spacecraft was first created for a lot of environmental experiments known as Environmental Qualification Testing (EQT). They have done many things to fix EQT. Some valves were replaced as a result of those tests. Even the newer, non-EQT valves were influenced by this problem.

The leakage of NTO through the valves is not a small thing. This often happens with NTO in which it slips through the seals made by Teflon. The same issue was also noticed with the shuttle program and other missions of NASA. Mostly it is both NTO and moisture.

They said that the research is going on about any issues with the valves that couldn’t be found in the old tests.  Boeing is trying other ways which include fixing the old service module or replacing it with another one that is being made for the Crew Flight Test mission. The best way to fix this in a short time is to repair the same module. The main aim is to come back as safely as possible.

Whether the service module is fixed or replaced, the next launch attempt will be around somewhere in mid-2022. There are many useful methods to assist this, mostly if the research does not show any results. The flight may be before the middle of 2022, although this is not confirmed yet.

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