Slow Speed Ahead: Boeing Struggles with Starliner Valve Issues as Second Flight Test Delayed to Next Year

Boeing engineers continue work at the United Launch Alliance Vertical Integration Facility on the Starliner propulsion system valves. (Credit: Boeing)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Boeing said on Tuesday that it will delay the second uncrewed flight test of its Starliner spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) until sometime in the first half of next year due to ongoing problems with stuck oxidizer valves on the vehicle. A crewed flight test would follow about six months later, with the first commercial mission carrying NASA astronauts in 2023.

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NASA Team Remains Focused on Lucy’s Solar Arrays

An artist’s concept of the Lucy Mission. (Credit: SwRI)

NASA Mission Update

After successful separation from the rocket on Oct. 16, NASA’s Lucy spacecraft deployed both solar arrays. Soon after deployment, NASA received confirmation that one of the solar arrays was fully deployed and latched. Analysis currently shows the second solar array is partially unfurled. The team continues to look at all available engineering data to establish how far it is deployed. That solar array is generating nearly the expected power when compared to the fully deployed wing. This power level is enough to keep the spacecraft healthy and functioning.

The Lucy spacecraft has remained in safe mode and is transitioning to cruise mode today. This mode has increased autonomy and spacecraft configuration changes, which is necessary as Lucy moves away from Earth. The team continues its assessment and an attempt to fully deploy the solar array is planned no earlier than the end of next week.

Lucy has successfully fired thrusters to slew the spacecraft with the current array configuration and will safely continue with desaturation maneuvers — small thruster firings to manage the spacecraft’s momentum — as planned.

The operations team has temporarily postponed the deployment of the instrument pointing platform to focus on resolving solar array deployment. The operations team continues to execute all other planned post-launch activities. The ULA Atlas V rocket delivered Lucy precisely to the target point at separation, and so a backup maneuver called the Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM-1) is unnecessary and has therefore been canceled. The first maneuver will now be what’s known as TCM-2, currently scheduled for mid-December.

The project is evaluating whether there are any long-term implications to other scheduled activities.

NASA, ULA Launch Lucy Mission to ‘Fossils’ of Planet Formation

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with the Lucy spacecraft aboard is seen in this 2 minute and 30 second exposure photograph as it launches from Space Launch Complex 41, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Lucy will be the first spacecraft to study Jupiter’s Trojan Asteroids. Like the mission’s namesake – the fossilized human ancestor, “Lucy,” whose skeleton provided unique insight into humanity’s evolution – Lucy will revolutionize our knowledge of planetary origins and the formation of the solar system. (Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

CAPE CANAVERAL SPACE FORCE BASE, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Lucy mission, the agency’s first to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, launched at 5:34 a.m. EDT Saturday on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

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Boeing Starliner Update: Valves Continue to be a Problem, No Launch Date in Sight

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft returned Aug. 19, 2021, from the United Launch Alliance Vertical Integration Facility to the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where teams will work to diagnose and resolve a valve issue detected during the Aug. 3 launch attempt of NASA Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test-2. (Credit: Boeing)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (Boeing PR) — The NASA, Boeing team continues to make progress on the investigation of the oxidizer isolation valve issue on the Starliner service module propulsion system that was discovered ahead of the planned uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission to the International Space Station in August.

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NASA Sets Coverage, Invites Public to Virtually Join Lucy Launch

An artist’s concept of the Lucy Mission. (Credit: SwRI)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA will provide coverage of upcoming prelaunch and launch activities for Lucy, the agency’s first mission to explore the Jupiter Trojan asteroids. 

Lucy is scheduled to launch no earlier than 5:34 a.m. EDT Saturday, Oct. 16, on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 401 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

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NOAA’s GOES-T Launch Date Shifts to Feb. 16, 2022

GOES-T is lowered into the thermal vacuum chamber. (Credit: Lockheed Martin)

SILVER SPRING, Md. (NOAA PR) — NOAA and NASA are now targeting Feb. 16, 2022, for the launch of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite T (GOES-T) mission. The launch was previously planned for Jan. 8, 2022. Changes to launch dates in missions scheduled ahead of GOES-T prompted NASA, NOAA, and United Launch Alliance (ULA) to coordinate the new target date to optimize launch schedules for missions flying from Space Launch Complex-41.

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United Launch Alliance Atlas V Successfully Launches Landsat 9 Earth Science Mission for NASA

A ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the Landsat 9 mission for NASA lifts off from Space Launch Complex-3 at 11:12 a.m. PDT on Sept. 27. (Credit: United Launch Alliance)

VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE STATION, Calif., Sept. 27, 2021 (ULA PR) – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the Landsat 9 mission for NASA lifted off on Sept. 27 at 11:12 a.m. PDT from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Space Force Base. To date ULA has launched 145 times with 100 percent mission success.

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ULA to Launch Landsat 9 Satellite on Monday from Vandenberg

Landsat 9 (Credit: NASA)

VANDERBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. (ULA Mission Update) — Everything is progressing toward the ULA Atlas V launch carrying the Landsat 9 mission for NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. The mission is planned to lift off on Mon., Sept. 27 at 11:11 a.m. PDT from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. 

Live broadcast coverage of launch will begin at 10:30 a.m. PDT on Sept. 27 and will broadcast live on NASA TV. Live launch updates and webcast available at: www.ulalaunch.com

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Space System Command’s Launch Enterprise Awards Four Prototype Agreements

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (SSC PR) — Space Systems Command (SSC) is partnering with industry on prototype projects to invest in next-generation rocket engine testing and upper stage resiliency enhancements.

SSC’s Launch Enterprise today awarded FY21 prototype projects for Raptor Rapid Throttling and Restart Testing; Liquid Methane Specification Development and Testing; and Combustion Stability Analysis and Testing to SpaceX for $14.47 million, for Uplink Command and Control for Centaur V to United Launch Alliance for $24.35 million, for Upper Stage Development for Neutron to Rocket Lab for $24.35 million, and for Cryogenic Fluid Management for Glenn Stage 2 to Blue Origin for $24.35 million, under the National Security Space Launch program using the Space Development Corps’ Space Enterprise Consortium (SpEC).

Prototype projects for orbital transfer and maneuver are anticipated for award in early FY22, pending congressional approval of the FY22 budget request;

NASA TV to Air Landsat 9 Launch, Prelaunch Activities

Landsat 9 (Credit: NASA)

VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA will provide coverage of the upcoming prelaunch and launch activities for the Landsat 9 satellite, a joint NASA and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) mission that will continue the legacy of monitoring Earth’s land and coastal regions that began with the first Landsat satellite in 1972.

Landsat 9 is scheduled to launch at 2:11 p.m. EDT (11:11 a.m. PDT) Monday, Sept. 27, on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 401 rocket from Space Launch Complex 3 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

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Landsat 9 Launch Pushed Back to Sept. 27

Landsat 9 Operational Land Imager 2 (Credit: Ball Aerospace)

NASA Mission Update

NASA and United Launch Alliance currently are reviewing the launch date for the Landsat 9 spacecraft scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Attaching the spacecraft to the Atlas V rocket has been delayed due to out-of-tolerance high winds for the operation and conflicts with other customers using the Western Range.

The Landsat 9 mission now is expected to launch from Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex 3 no earlier than Monday, Sept. 27, 2021.

Landsat 9 is a joint NASA and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) mission that continues the legacy of monitoring Earth’s land and coastal regions, which began with the first Landsat in 1972.

COVID-19 Related Propellant Supply Issues Delay Landsat 9 Launch, Impact SpaceX Missions

Landsat 9 Operational Land Imager 2 (Credit: Ball Aerospace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA says that a surge in COVID-19 cases has caused supply issues that have delayed the planned launch of the Landsat 9 Earth observation satellite from Vandenberg Space Force Base by one week to no earlier than Sept. 23.

“Current pandemic demands for medical liquid oxygen [LOX] have impacted the delivery of the needed liquid nitrogen supply to Vandenberg by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and its supplier Airgas,” the space agency said in a blog post. “Airgas converts the liquid nitrogen to gaseous nitrogen needed for launch vehicle testing and countdown sequences. DLA and Airgas now have implemented efforts to increase the supply of liquid nitrogen to Vandenberg.”

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First Piece of Artemis II Flight Hardware Arrives in Florida

Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (Credit: ULA)

CAPE CANAVERAL SPACE FORCE BASE, Fla. (NASA PR) — The Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage for the second flight of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket arrived in Florida on July 28 for the final phase of production. The stage and its single RL10 engine provide the in-space propulsion needed to send NASA’s Orion spacecraft and its crew on a precise trajectory to the Moon for Artemis II, the first crewed mission of NASA’s Artemis lunar missions. It is the first piece of the rocket for the Artemis II flight to arrive in Florida. Boeing and United Launch Alliance, the contractor team for the stage, shipped the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage from ULA’s facilities in Decatur, Alabama, to its Delta IV Operation Center at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The stage will undergo final processing and checkout before it is transported to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for launch preparations.

With Artemis, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the lunar surface and establish long-term exploration at the Moon in preparation for human missions to Mars. SLS and NASA’s Orion spacecraft, along with the commercial human landing system and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, are NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration. SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts, and supplies to the Moon in a single mission.

Starliner Returning to Factory to Resolve Valve Issue

Boeing engineers continue work at the United Launch Alliance Vertical Integration Facility on the Starliner propulsion system valves. (Credit: Boeing)

CAPE CANAVERAL SPACE FORCE STATION, Fla. (Boeing PR) — Today, Boeing informed NASA that the company will destack its CST-100 Starliner from the Atlas V rocket and return the spacecraft to the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) for deeper-level troubleshooting of four propulsion system valves that remain closed after last Tuesday’s scrubbed launch.

Starliner has sat atop the Atlas V rocket in ULA’s Vertical Integration Facility since August 4, where Boeing teams have worked to restore functionality to the affected valves.

The relocation of the spacecraft to the C3PF will require Boeing, NASA and United Launch Alliance to agree on a new launch date once the valve issue is resolved.

“Mission success in human spaceflight depends on thousands of factors coming together at the right time,” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager, Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program. “We’ll continue to work the issue from the Starliner factory and have decided to stand down for this launch window to make way for other national priority missions.”

Boeing will continue to provide information and updates at www.StarlinerUpdates.com as it becomes available.

Starliner Work in Vertical Integration Facility to Continue Through Weekend

Platforms and scaffolding are up around the Orbital Flight Test-2 Starliner, atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, inside the Vertical Integration Facility. (Credit: Boeing)

CAPE CANAVERAL SPACE FORCE STATION, Fla. (Boeing PR) — This weekend, Boeing engineers will continue testing and evaluating the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft inside the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at Space Launch Complex-41.

Yesterday, teams powered up the spacecraft to receive data and send commands to the propulsion system valves that unexpectedly indicated “closed” positions early in the launch countdown on Tuesday. The transmitted commands successfully opened some of the valves, giving the team new data to assess while also beginning physical inspections.

“Cautiously optimistic is a good way to describe how the team is feeling,” said John Vollmer, Starliner vice president and program manager. “They’re coming forward with innovative ideas and prioritizing the safety of the spacecraft and their teammates.”

Boeing aims to perform all activities at the VIF before returning to the launch pad for flight. If necessary, the spacecraft could return to the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center for further troubleshooting and inspections and possibly return to the pad for launch this month.

Boeing is assessing multiple launch opportunities for Starliner in August and will work with NASA and United Launch Alliance to confirm those dates when the team is ready to proceed with the Orbital Flight Test-2 mission.

Updates will be provided by NASA and Boeing as information is available.

Please follow @NASA, @Commercial_Crew and @BoeingSpace on Twitter, or visit www.nasa.gov or  www.StarlinerUpdates.com, for more information.