Washington: Boeing has stalled the first crewed flight of its Starliner capsule that was slated for July, over parachute and wiring safety issues, the company has said.
Starliner’s astronaut launch, which is already running years behind schedule, was scheduled to lift off to the International Space Station (ISS) on July 21 with NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams.
Now, it may not launch this year, Space.com reported.
“It’s feasible, but I certainly wouldn’t want to commit to any dates or timeframes,” Mark Nappi, Boeing Starliner programme manager, and vice president told reporters in a press conference on Thursday.
“We need to spend the next several days understanding what we need to do to solve these problems,” he added.
Nappi said that during in-depth reviews of Starliner, last week, the officials discovered issues with the Starliner’s three main parachutes.
The engineers found that the “soft links” used on the suspension lines of Starliner’s three main parachutes cannot handle the load of Starliner if one fails.
Being able to land safely with two of three chutes is a safety requirement for NASA, Nappi said.
Further, they found that a protective tape covering the wiring harnesses throughout the Starliner capsule is flammable and there are “hundreds” of feet of it inside Starliner, the report said.
“It’s highly unlikely that we would go in and cut this tape off,” Nappi said, adding that doing so would likely cause more potential damage.
“So we’re looking at solutions that would provide for essentially another type of wrapping over the existing tape in the most vulnerable areas that reduces the risk of fire hazard.”
Boeing had signed a contract with NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme to fly operational missions to and from the space station with Starliner in 2014.
However, it has faced a series of setbacks.
Its debut uncrewed orbital flight mission in 2019 did not go exactly as planned, requiring it to make another try before putting astronauts on board for the crewed flight test.
The capsule, however, made a successful repeat of that mission in 2022.
The flammable tape issue and the parachute soft links issue were both present on that flight, but the mission was a success, NASA officials said.
In addition to Boeing, NASA also picked Elon Musk’s SpaceX to fly astronauts to and from the ISS as part of its Commercial Crew Programme.
SpaceX’s Dragon capsules have been launching astronauts to the station on its Falcon 9 rockets since 2020.
To date, SpaceX has launched seven crewed flights for NASA and three private flights for customers, most recently the Ax-2 commercial flight to the station for Axiom Space that landed back on Earth on May 30.