Le Matin – Boeing delays unmanned test flight to ISS

Boeing on Tuesday announced that it was delaying the unmanned test mission of its Starliner space capsule to the International Space Station (ISS) due to a problem in the propulsion system, postponing an important test for the company, including the first attempt had failed in 2019.

The spacecraft was to launch into space from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 1:20 p.m. (5:20 p.m. GMT), aboard an Atlas V rocket built by the United Launch Alliance consortium.

But nearly 2 hours before the launch, Boeing announced on Twitter that the flight was canceled.

According to a statement from NASA, the mission was not canceled because of the capricious weather, but because of “unexpected indications on the position of the valves of the Starliner propulsion system”, the next possible window for the launch. being Wednesday at 12:57 p.m. (16:57 GMT).

“We are disappointed with today’s result, and to have to reschedule our launch of Starline,” said John Vollmer, head of Boeing.

“Boeing and NASA will take the time necessary to ensure the safety and integrity of our spacecraft and the achievement of our mission objectives.”

The test mission was due to take place on Friday but had to be postponed to Tuesday after a Russian science module unexpectedly activated its thrusters after docking with the ISS, changing its orientation.

After ending its own space shuttle program in 2011, NASA secured the services of Boeing and SpaceX so as to no longer need Russian rockets to reach the ISS.

SpaceX has already transported no less than ten astronauts to the Space Station, including Frenchman Thomas Pesquet, aboard its Crew Dragon spacecraft.

For its part, Boeing is behind schedule. In December 2019, during a first test flight, a software problem had caused a problem in the way the capsule had ignited its thrusters.

As a result, Starliner had not had enough fuel to reach the ISS and turned back to Earth prematurely. Subsequently, an investigation showed that the capsule had almost experienced a serious flight anomaly on entering the atmosphere.

NASA had described the mission as a “high visibility close call”, a rare name reserved for flights that came close to disaster.

Steve Stich, head of NASA’s commercial flights program, told the press last week to have confidence this time around.

“We want it to go well, we expect it to go well and we have prepared as best we can,” he said.

“Starliner is a great vehicle but we know how difficult it is, and it’s also a test flight so I’m sure we’ll learn something from it.”

The capsule is expected to carry more than 180 kg of equipment to the ISS and bring back more than 250, when it completes its mission in the West American desert.