In the end, the capsule had to be returned from the launch pad. When engineers were unable to repair it on site, it was eventually returned to the Boeing factory for further troubleshooting.
Boeing and NASA differ, according to the report and comments from NASA officials at recent press conferences.
Mark Naby, Boeing vice president and Starliner program manager, noted at a press conference last week that his investigation indicated that moisture had entered the valves and caused “corrosion” and a “sticking”. This led the company to devise a short-term solution and create a disinfection system, which includes a small bag, designed to keep out corrosive moisture. NASA and Boeing say they are comfortable with this solution.
“We are in good shape to enter this system,” Steve Stitch, NASA commercial crew program manager, said last week.
But this may not be the end. Boeing revealed last week that it may eventually have to redesign the valves.
“There are a few more tests we want to do, and based on those results, we will solidify what kind of changes we make in the future,” Naby said. “We will probably know more in the coming months.”
If Boeing does a more comprehensive redesign of the valves, it’s unclear how long it will take or if it could delay Boeing’s first astronaut mission, which at this point is years behind schedule. According to public documents, the stoppage of work with Starliner cost the company about half a billion dollars.
Meanwhile, SpaceX, once seen as the weakest competitor to NASA’s commercial crew program, has now launched six NASA astronaut missions, in addition to two tourist missions. The maiden launch of its spacecraft, Crew Dragon, became the first to take astronauts into orbit from US soil since the space shuttle program was retired in 2011.
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