top of page

Starliner’s Crewed Mission to ISS Is Postponed Again

The long-awaited Starliner's crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS) is delayed once again due to problems detected in one of the valves.

On May 6, the launch from Cape Canaveral Space Center, Florida, via a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, was delayed due to the detection of an issue with the oxygen relief valve in the rocket's upper stage, observed just two hours before liftoff. This valve was experiencing rapid opening and closing, resembling a buzzing sensation. At the time of the discovery, two astronauts were aboard the capsule and prepared for flight.

Therefore, Monday's launch was announced as "scrubbed" after an abnormality was noticed in a valve of United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket. United Launch Alliance officials noted that "additional time to complete a full assessment" is required to ensure the safety of the flight and crew. The analysis and assessment they will conduct will examine whether the pressure regulation valve ought to be replaced considering the duration of the delay. Then, NASA declared that a second attempt would not be made before Friday, May 10, and remarked safety comes first.

Following the decision by United Launch Alliance (ULA) to replace the problematic valve, the Starliner-Atlas V spacecraft will be transported back to the assembly building. During this process, various general checks, including a leak check, will be conducted. Consequently, the launch date has been rescheduled to May 17, pending NASA's confirmation, in the best-case scenario.

Boeing's commercial crew program manager, Mark Nappi, addressed reporters, emphasizing that encountering faults is a normal aspect of spacecraft development. He likened the process to a series of ups and downs, with an overall upward trajectory. Despite the setback, Nappi expressed confidence in Boeing's progress, stating, "We are basically at the top of that slope." However, the scrubbed mission added to Boeing's challenges, as the company trails behind its primary competitor, SpaceX, which has successfully executed seven long-term astronaut missions to the ISS for NASA.

NASA's shift towards utilizing private firms for transportation services, rather than solely managing its spacecraft, led to the signing of contracts with SpaceX and Boeing, valued at $2.6 billion and $4.2 billion, respectively. This decision aligns with NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which supports private companies in transporting astronauts to low-orbit destinations. However, Boeing faced significant challenges, requiring additional expenditures to address issues, while SpaceX successfully completed its first crewed test flight in 2020, placing Boeing four years behind in the race.

Boeing encountered numerous delays and hurdles throughout the development of the Starliner spacecraft. Initially slated for an uncrewed mission in 2015, the launch was repeatedly postponed, eventually taking place in 2019. During the test, a malfunction in the internal clock occurred, thrusters over-fired, and the capsule was not able to arrive at the ISS because of the overconsumption of fuel. The second trial, which was scheduled to take place in August 2021 but was postponed to May 2022, was able to accomplish an uncrewed travel to the ISS, finally.

For this crewed mission, two veteran NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams are going to travel with the Starliner to the ISS for an eight-day stay. Notably, Williams will become the first woman to participate in the first crewed flight of an orbital spacecraft. Later on, they will return to Earth with the same spacecraft to set foot in one of the determined locations in southwestern US.

Five meters tall and 4.6 meters wide, which is wider compared to the capsule used in Apollo missions, Starliner can house a maximum of seven astronauts and is anticipated to be reusable up to 10 times, hence provides convenience, especially for these kinds of low orbit travels.

In summary, the success of Starliner's human spaceflight to the ISS holds significant importance as it serves as a crucial validation for NASA's reliance on Boeing for routine and short travels to the ISS. If this mission proves successful, it is likely that Starliner will soon be certified by NASA for regular crewed flights to the ISS. As Caleb Henry from the space consultancy firm Quilty points out, we are entering a new era of human exploration, with the private sector playing an expanding role in space travel, leading to increased frequency and new opportunities in space. Furthermore, if Starliner completes its mission successfully, it will become the second private company, after Elon Musk's SpaceX, to achieve a crewed mission to the ISS.


bottom of page