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Boeing’s Starliner now targeting 17 May blast-off

The first crewed flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner will now aim to blast off on 17 May after engineers decided to replace the faulty valve.

The decision meant the rocket had to be rolled back from the launchpad into the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, ruling out a quick second attempt.

It comes after the blast-off last week had to be scrubbed hours before launch due to a problem with the oxygen relief valve on the rocket’s Centaur upper stage, which was heard to be buzzing.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) chief executive officer Tory Bruno previously said if the vibrations heard were a full motion of the valve, it would need replacing.


“After evaluating the valve history, data signatures from the launch attempt, and assessing the risks relative to continued use, the ULA team determined the valve exceeded its qualification and mission managers agreed to remove and replace the valve,” NASA said.

However, in a surprise intervention, ValveTech, a contractor that supplies NASA with valve components for the Starliner, warned the space agency to conduct more safety checks before launch.

“As a valued NASA partner and as valve experts, we strongly urge them not to attempt a second launch due to the risk of a disaster occurring on the launchpad,” ValveTech president Erin Faville said.

“According to media reports, a buzzing sound indicating the leaking valve was noticed by someone walking by the Starliner minutes before launch. This sound could indicate that the valve has passed its lifecycle.”


She urged NASA to “redouble safety checks and re-examine safety protocols to make sure the Starliner is safe before something catastrophic happens to the astronauts and to the people on the ground”.

Later, ValveTech clarified that it “did not call for NASA to permanently stop the Starliner launch”.

“Some media outlets have misquoted or misrepresented comments I made in a news release issued earlier this week,” said Faville.

“What I said was that NASA needs to redouble safety checks and re-examine safety protocols to make sure the Starliner is safe before trying to launch the Starliner again.

“As a valued NASA partner, it would make no sense and not be in my company’s interest to end this mission.

“It is unfortunate that some of my comments were taken out of context to imply otherwise.”

When launch does finally occur, the spacecraft is scheduled to dock with the ISS around a day after launch, where it will remain for a week before landing at White Sands, New Mexico.

Starliner’s first attempt at an uncrewed flight failed in 2019 due to software glitches, but it eventually docked with the ISS in May 2022.

Typically, astronauts launch to the ISS via Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft and, more recently, through SpaceX’s privately owned Dragon capsule. However, recent tensions with Russia have made the Starliner test mission even more critical.

Boeing also has a lot riding on the success of Starliner, given years of problems with its best-selling 737 MAX aircraft.

In March, Space Connect’s sister brand, Australian Aviation, reported how Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun and chairman Larry Kellner would both leave the aerospace giant by the end of the year amid a broader leadership reshuffle.

Calhoun said the Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 accident in January, where an emergency exit door plug blew off a brand-new 737 MAX 9 over Portland, was a “watershed moment” for the company.

Boeing is now facing a criminal investigation over the incident, which led to the sacking of the head of its 737 program.

Adam Thorn

Adam Thorn

Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.

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