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Starliner Now Targeting May 21 Launch After Helium Leak

Boeing Starliner
Boeing Starliner. Credit: Boeing

Ibadan, 16 May 2024. – Boeing has announced another postponement of its Starliner mission until at least May 21 as it addresses a small helium leak in the Starliner spacecraft itself. NASA had earlier postponed the mission’s launch to May 17 following a data review which saw United Launch Alliance (ULA) decide to replace a pressure regulation valve on the Atlas V rocket’s Centaur upper stage.

On May 11, the ULA team successfully replaced a pressure regulation valve on the liquid oxygen tank on the Atlas V rocket’s Centaur upper stage. The team also performed re-pressurization and system purges, and tested the new valve, which performed normally. However, Starliner teams are working to resolve the helium leak which they traced to a flange on a single reaction control system thruster. Helium is used in spacecraft thruster systems to allow the thrusters to fire and is not combustible or toxic.

NASA and Boeing are now developing spacecraft testing and operational solutions to address the issue. Furthermore, as a part of the testing, Boeing will bring the propulsion system up to flight pressurization just as it does prior to launch, and then allow the helium system to vent naturally to validate existing data and strengthen flight rationale. The mission teams also completed a thorough review of the data from the May 6 launch attempt and are not tracking any other issues. Likewise, the Atlas V and Starliner remain in the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams, still in preflight quarantine have also returned to Houston to spend extra time with their families as prelaunch operations progress. The duo will subsequently fly back to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in the coming days.

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