1 of 5 | A Boeing Starliner spacecraft sits on top of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket as it is prepared for launch from Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in May 2022. The unmanned Starliner failed to rendezvous and dock to the International Space Station. File Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., June 2 (UPI) -- Starliner, the spacecraft Boeing Co designed to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, will not fly any time soon because of problems related to the parachutes and wiring insulation, the company said.
A crewed flight has been planned for July, but now it's questionable if the space capsule will be launched before the end of the year. NASA still can utilize SpaceX vehicles, but the space agency always has wanted a second company to provide travel, as well.
During final prelaunch reviews conducted last week, engineers found the two unrelated problems that could put the lives of astronauts in grave danger.
As a result, the long-delayed Starliner flight with astronauts aboard, tentatively scheduled for July 21, has been postponed indefinitely, Mark Nappi, the Boeing Starliner program manager, said during a Thursday teleconference.
In the course of last week's final preflight checks and reviews, engineers realized that the lines designed to hold the capsule to its three parachutes must be sturdier, if the astronauts are to land safely, Nappi said.
So-called soft links connected to the lines of Starliner's three parachutes are not as robust as originally understood. In fact, it is unlikely that the soft links could safely carry Starliner's weight in case of a parachute failure.
Landing with at least two working parachutes out of three is a NASA safety concern and a requirement, Nappi said.
Safety studies have shown, however, that one failed parachute could get entangled with another, which would lead to a catastrophic outcome.
Two Starliner missions landed safely in the New Mexico desert at the end of two test flights, in 2019 and in 2022.
As for the other concern, the prelaunch previews showed that protective tape wrapped around most of the Starliner wiring insulation is flammable.
Choosing an option of removing the tape is unlikely, Nappi said, due to the risk of introducing additional, unforeseen damage.
"We're looking at solutions that would provide for essentially another type of wrapping over the existing tape in the most vulnerable areas," to reduce fire hazards.
Since Starliner's first launch in 2019, a number of serious problems have repeatedly caused the program to fall behind schedule.
"We need to spend the next several days understanding what we need to go do to solve these problems," Nappi said, adding that both issues should have been caught years ago.
Software problems caused Starliner's first test mission to come short of reaching the correct orbit to rendezvous with the International Space Station, and the capsule ended up landing sooner than planned.
At a meeting of NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, specialists expressed apprehension over the spacecraft preparedness, particularly because the system during the previous test-flights was not certified for human flight.