July 24, 2024


Two Nasa Astronauts from Boeing’s troubled Starliner capsule may have to stay in space until mid-August as engineers continue to work through technical problems that prevented their return in June.

Sunita Williams and Butch Wilmore were aboard the international space station (ISS) since June 6 after the first crew members of the next generation spacecraft. The test mission was scheduled to last about a week, but Starliner’s undocking was delayed several times as faulty thrusters and then a series of small helium leaks raised safety concerns.

On Wednesday, Nasa announced that it was still conducting tests to ensure the capsule would perform as expected, and while the space agency was confident the craft would be safe for an emergency evacuation, mission managers were not yet ready to schedule its departure.

“Some of the data is optimistic, maybe by the end of July, but we’ll just follow the data one step at a time,” Steve Stich, NASA’s commercial team program manager, said at a lunchtime press conference.

“We’re going to methodically work through our processes, including a return flight readiness review with the agency, before we have the chance to proceed to take off and land. It’s a very standard process.”

He added that a routine rotation of the ISS crew in mid-August was “sort of a backdoor” to the mission to avoid overcrowding in orbit.

“Obviously, a few days before that launch event we’ll have to get Butch and Suni home on Starliner,” he said.

But he noted that the space station, currently staffed by a regular crew of seven in addition to the two Starliner astronauts, had sufficient supplies and resources, and there was no risk to anyone aboard.

That, he said, gave engineers time to conduct ground-fire evaluations of replica thrusters at Nasa’s White Sands test facility in New Mexico, and the helium leak issues he believed could be ironed out by the end of this week. to conclude.

Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager of Boeing’s commercial crew program, told reporters he was confident the Starliner program would emerge stronger because of the problems.

“All this information is going to go into a big bucket, and all the engineers are going to review it and try to see if it doesn’t point to the root cause or point to an additional test that we can do in the future to eliminate this problem once and for all,” he said.

Although Boeing’s space operations are separate from its aerospace wing, the ongoing problems with Starliner have contributed to the company’s recent public relations crisis, caused by the crash of two 737 Max planes and a number of other safety-related incidents.

Despite being years behind schedule and over $1.5 billion over budget launched from Florida on June 5Starliner was intended to restore some of the company’s lost luster and provide Nasa with a second private commercial crew alternative for transporting astronauts into low-Earth orbit to SpaceX’s Dragon capsule.

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If the current test mission is successful, Starliner capsules, officially known as CST-100 (crew space transport), will operate six further astronaut rotation flights to the space station as part of Nasa’s commercial crew program.

Speaking from the ISS earlier Wednesday, Wilmore said he and Williams are enjoying their “extra” time in space and are not worried about the technical issues.

“This is the world of tests. It’s a tough business we’re in, human spaceflight is not easy in any regime, and there have been multiple problems with every spacecraft ever designed,” he said.

“We are very good friends with those who make these decisions, and we trust them. We trust their integrity, we trust their technical acumen, and we trust that the tests we do are the tests we need to do to get the right answers to give us the data we need to come back.”



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