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Starliner test flight faces months-long delay

WASHINGTON — A test flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle will be delayed for likely several months to fix a problem with valves on the spacecraft.

Boeing announced Aug. 13 that it will remove the Starliner spacecraft that was to launch this month on the Orbital Flight Test (OFT) 2 mission will be removed from its Atlas 5 rocket and returned to the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center for additional work.

Boeing scrubbed an Aug. 3 launch attempt after discovering problems with what the company later said were 13 valves in the spacecraft’s propulsion system that were unexpectedly closed. After being unable to resolve the problem while the spacecraft was on the pad, Boeing and United Launch Alliance rolled the Atlas 5 back to its Vertical Integration Facility to give technicians access to the spacecraft.

As of Aug. 12, Boeing said it had fixed 9 of the 13 valves “after the application of electrical and thermal techniques” to open them. Four other valves remained closed and were still being worked on.

The decision to remove Starliner from the Atlas 5 means an extended delay for OFT-2. Even if the problem is quickly solved, Boeing will have to wait until after the mid-October of NASA’s Lucy asteroid mission on another Atlas 5 before beginning preparations for another launch. That mission would likely not fly until after the launch of SpaceX’s Crew-3 commercial crew mission, scheduled for the end of October, and the return to Earth about a week later of the Crew-2 spacecraft, freeing up the docking port for Starliner.

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