Boeing's second attempt at an uncrewed orbital flight test of its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft has been postponed for the second time on Tuesday after engineers found "unexpected valve position indications" in the vehicle's propulsion systems.
The aerospace giant noted the technical issue was initially detected during pre-launch preparations following electrical storms near Kennedy Space Center on Monday.
"We’re disappointed with today’s outcome and the need to reschedule our Starliner launch," John Vollmer, Boeing Commercial Crew Program vice president and program manager, said in a statement. "Human spaceflight is a complex, precise and unforgiving endeavor, and Boeing and NASA teams will take the time they need to ensure the safety and integrity of the spacecraft and the achievement of our mission objectives."
The Starliner spacecraft is slated to launch aboard United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket as part of Boeing's Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission, which will carry more than 400 pounds of NASA cargo and crew supplies to the the International Space Station and return to Earth with more than 550 pounds of cargo, including the reusable Nitrogen Oxygen Recharge System tanks that provide breathable air to station crew members.
"OFT-2 will demonstrate the end-to-end capabilities of the Starliner spacecraft and Atlas V rocket, from launch, to docking, to a return to Earth with a desert landing in the western United States," NASA said in a statement. "The uncrewed mission will provide valuable data toward NASA certifying Boeing’s crew transportation system for regular flights to and from the space station."
The launch was originally scheduled for liftoff on Friday but was postponed to 1:20 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday after a mishap with Russia's Nauka module while docking with the ISS on Thursday. The next available launch opportunity will be at 12:57 p.m. on Wednesday, though no new launch is currently confirmed as Boeing and NASA teams are assessing the situation.
Starliner is designed to fit a maximum crew of seven people, but NASA plans to carry a crew of four to five people in future missions. The crew modules are designed to fly up to 10 missions.
The spacecraft's upcoming flight will mark a milestone as NASA looks to cut its dependence on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft to carry the agency's astronauts to space.
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Boeing is planning to fly Starliner on a total of three test flights and six missions to the International Space Station. The company is aiming to eventually sell its fifth seat to commercial and government-sponsored astronauts as well as private citizens flying as tourists.