July 14, 2024
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Discovery

NASA doesn't know when Starliner will return from orbit

After helium leaks and propellant problems with Boeing's Starliner capsule, NASA has pushed back the return date from the International Space Station. On Friday, the agency announced that they no longer had a planned return date. Instead, they will continue testing the capsule, trying to understand its problems and seeing if they can fix it. There are plenty of supplies on the station, so there is no urgent need to bring the two astronauts back to Earth.

NASA decided to cancel the departure scheduled for Wednesday, June 26 due to conflicting schedules with a series of planned spacewalks on the ISS, scheduled for today (Monday, June 24) and Tuesday, July 2. The delay also gives mission teams time to review system and propulsion data.

Boeing's CTS-100 Starliner took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 5, 2024. Credit: NASA

After years of delays and two recent failed launch attempts, Starliner finally launched on June 5, 2024 with NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams on board. Although two of the ship's thrusters failed during the flight, the ship managed to reach the ISS and delivered 227 kg (500 lbs) of cargo. Besides, Five small leaks were also detected in the service module.and crew and ground teams have been working on safety checks.

“We are taking our time and following our mission management team's standard process,” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. in a NASA blog post. “We are letting data drive our decision making regarding management of small helium system leaks and thruster performance that we observe during rendezvous and docking. Additionally, given the duration of the mission, it is appropriate that we complete an agency-level review, similar to that done prior to the return of NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 after two months in orbit, to document formal acceptance of the agency in the process. as planned.”

This first crewed Starliner flight was supposed to validate the spacecraft as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP), with the hope that it would work alongside SpaceX's Crew Dragon to make regular deliveries of cargo and crew to the ISS. This mission is Starliner's second time flying to the ISS and third flight test overall. During the first uncrewed test flight (OFT-1), which took place in December 2019, the Starliner launched successfully but failed to reach the ISS. After performing 61 NASA-recommended corrective actions, another attempt (OFT-2) was made on May 22, 2022. That flight successfully docked with the ISS, staying there for four days before undocking and landing on the field. White Sands Missile Site in New Mexico. .

The seven Expedition 71 crew members join the two flight test crew members for a team portrait aboard the space station. In front, from left, are Suni Williams, Oleg Kononenko and Butch Wilmore. Second row from left are Alexander Grebenkin, Tracy C. Dyson and Mike Barratt. In the back are Nikolai Chub, Jeanette Epps and Matthew Dominick. Photo credit: NASA.

Wilmore and Williams are now working with the Expedition 71 crew, assisting with station operations as needed and completing additional in-flight objectives for NASA's Starliner certification.

Stich said that despite all the problems, Starliner is performing well in orbit while docked at the space station.

“We are strategically using the extra time to clear the way for some critical station activities while we complete preparation for Butch and Suni's return on Starliner,” he said, “and gain valuable information about system upgrades we will want to make after the certification”. missions”.

Mission managers will evaluate future Starliner return opportunities, and NASA said they will host a media conference call with mission leadership following a readiness review. NASA added that Starliner is actually cleared to return in the event of an emergency at the space station that requires the crew to leave orbit and return to Earth.

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