Boeing considers valve redesign crucial for the Starliner space capsule

Boeing’s Starliner capsule for the Orbital Flight Test 2 (OFT-2) mission is lifted above the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket on May 4, 2022.

Frank Michaux / NASA

Boeing is considering redesigning the propulsion valves on its Starliner crew capsule, a crucial system that prevented the company from flying astronauts for NASA and competing with by Elon Musk SpaceX.

Starliner is the spacecraft that Boeing developed under NASA’s Commercial Crew program, having won nearly $ 5 billion in contracts to build the capsule. But the development of Starliner encountered several obstacles. A software malfunction was aborted the first unmanned orbital flight in 2019it’s a the propulsion valve problem was identified before launching the second attempt last August.

“A redesign of the valve is definitely on the table,” Boeing Vice President and Commercial Crew Program Manager Mark Nappi said at a press conference Wednesday. “Once we’ve got all the information we need, we’ll make that decision.”

Boeing is making another attempt to launch the Orbital Flight Test 2 (OFT-2) mission, which is expected to take off on May 19. The company applied sealant to the valves for this attempt. But the solution is likely a temporary solution to the problem, which in August saw 13 of the 24 oxidizing valves that control Starliner’s movement in space become blocked after Florida moisture caused corrosion.

Depending on the outcome of the OFT-2, Boeing would then prepare for a manned flight test that would see the first astronauts fly on the Starliner. However, a redesign of the valve could further delay the manned launch, given the need for Boeing to test and NASA to certify the solution.

To date, Boeing has spent $ 595 million due to delays, as it has a fixed-price contract with NASA to develop the Starliner. The space agency took over last year the rare move to reassign astronauts from Starliner to SpaceX Crew Dragon, which just launched the company’s seventh human spaceflight.

The first news was Reuters Boeing wants to redesign the Aerojet Rocketdynevalves manufactured, although neither the company nor NASA had previously disclosed the plans. Nappi confirmed that Boeing “has been looking into options for at least a month, if not more.”

For now, Nappi said Boeing wants to “do a little more testing” to further understand how “these nitrates form inside” the valves, with those results leading a team that has been set up.

“We are very confident for OFT-2 to have a system that will function properly,” said Nappi.