Boeing’s spaceship has yet another technical issue, delaying the launch of a critical re-do flight for NASA

Boeing starliner space capsule lowered on cables to rocket
‘s Starliner spacecraft stacked atop an Atlas V rocket at in Cape Canaveral, Florida, July 17, 2021. Boeing

Boeing found technical issues with its spaceship just hours before a launch that was meant to prove to NASA that the vehicle could fly astronauts.

The company’s Starliner spaceship was secured to the top of an Atlas V rocket, ready to lift off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Tuesday. The uncrewed test flight would send the capsule to and from the International Space Station – a critical part of NASA’s certification process, and the last step before flying people.

But Boeing suddenly scrubbed the launch on Tuesday morning, citing “unexpected valve position indications in the propulsion system.” In a statement, the company said that its engineers discovered the issue while checking the spaceship’s health after electrical storms near Kennedy Space Center.

Rocket with starliner spaceship atop next to launch tower against blue skies
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft onboard is readied at the launchpad, July 29, 2021 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

It’s not yet clear if those storms had anything to do with the valve issues.

“We’re disappointed with today’s outcome and the need to reschedule our Starliner launch,” John Vollmer, vice president and manager of Boeing’s Starliner program, said in the company’s statement. “Human spaceflight is a complex, precise and unforgiving endeavor, and Boeing and NASA teams will take the time they need to ensure the safety and integrity of the spacecraft and the achievement of our mission objectives.”

The next opportunity for launch is Wednesday at 12:57 p.m. ET. Whether Boeing will be able to resolve the issue by then remains unknown.

Starliner has faced many other errors and delays

This isn’t the first time technical issues blocked Starliner’s path to the ISS. This mission, called Orbital Flight Test 2, or OFT-2, is a re-do. Boeing first attempted the flight in December 2019, but a software error caused the spaceship to burn through 25% of its fuel too soon after launch. That left it without enough propellant to reach the ISS and return home, so Boeing commanded the spaceship to parachute back down to Earth.

NASA and Boeing are both determined to get Starliner to the ISS, though – first without astronauts, and then with them. The ultimate goal is for Starliner to regularly ferry astronauts to and from the ISS for NASA, as SpaceX already does.

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An illustration of ‘s CST-100 Starliner spaceship orbiting Earth. Boeing

SpaceX and Boeing both developed their spaceships through NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a competition that awarded funding to private companies in order to develop new astronaut-ready spacecraft. The goal was to spur commercial alternatives to Russia’s Soyuz launch system, which had been NASA’s only option for flying astronauts since the Space Shuttle Program ended in 2011.

Tuesday’s launch scrub is the second time in a week that OFT-2 has been delayed. It was originally set to lift off on Friday afternoon but had to be postponed after a mishap on the ISS. Russia’s new module, Nauka, fired its engines unexpectedly after docking to the station on Thursday, which sent the ISS spinning for about an hour before flight controllers regained control.