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More delays for Alabama built rocket and NASA’s new Starliner capsule

Boeing's Starliner capsule atop an Atlas V rocket stands ready for its upcoming mission at Space Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Sunday, May 5, 2024, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Launch is scheduled for Monday evening. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)
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FR60642 AP
Boeing's Starliner capsule atop an Atlas V rocket stands ready for its upcoming mission at Space Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Sunday, May 5, 2024, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Launch is scheduled for Monday evening. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

Mission managers are still troubleshooting a helium leak on NASA’s new gumdrop shaped space capsule called Starliner. The vehicle, on top of an Alabama built Atlas-V rocket, will now launch no earlier than May 25th. NASA was originally targeting this Tuesday after the leak on the Service Module of the Starliner.

Already years late, Boeing's Starliner spacecraft continues to face delays as it prepares to launch NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams into space. The latest delay came as a problem with its ride to orbit, an Atlas V rocket, caused the first launch attempt late on May 6, 2024, to be scrubbed.

Part of NASA's commercial crew program, this long-delayed mission will represent the vehicle's first crewed launch. If successful, it will give NASA – and in the future, space tourists – more options for getting to low Earth orbit.

Following the retirement of NASA's space shuttle in 2011, NASA invited commercial space companies to help the agency transport cargo and crew to the International Space Station. In 2014, NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX to build their respective crew vehicles: Starliner and Dragon.

Boeing's vehicle, Starliner, was built to carry up to seven crew members to and from low Earth orbit. For NASA missions to the International Space Station, it will carry up to four at a time, and it's designed to remain docked to the station for up to seven months. At 15 feet, the capsule where the crew will sit is slightly bigger than an Apollo command module or a SpaceX Dragon.

Boeing designed Starliner to be partially reusable to reduce the cost of getting to space. Though the Atlas V rocket it will take to space and the service module that supports the craft are both expendable, Starliner's crew capsule can be reused up to 10 times, with a six-month turnaround. Boeing has built two flightworthy Starliners to date.

Starliner's development has come with setbacks. Though Boeing received US$4.2 billion from NASA, compared with $2.6 billion for SpaceX, Boeing spent more than $1.5 billion extra in developing the spacecraft.

Still, Boeing delayed the first crewed launch for Starliner from 2023 to 2024 because of additional problems. One involved Starliner's parachutes, which help to slow the vehicle as it returns to Earth. Tests found that some links in those parachute lines were weaker than expected, which could have caused them to break. A second problem was the use of flammable tape that could pose a fire hazard.

Given these difficulties, Starliner's success will be important for Boeing's future space efforts. Even if SpaceX's Dragon can successfully transport NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, the agency needs a backup. And that's where Starliner comes in.

Following the Challenger explosion in 1986 and the Columbia shuttle accident in 2003, NASA retired the space shuttle in 2011. The agency was left with few options to get astronauts to and from space. Having a second commercial crew vehicle provider means that NASA will not have to depend on one company or vehicle for space launches as it previously had to.

Perhaps more importantly, if Starliner is successful, it could compete with SpaceX. Though there's no crushing demand for space tourism right now, and Boeing has no plans to market Starliner for tourism anytime soon, competition is important in any market to drive down costs and increase innovation.

NASA was originally targeting this Tuesday after the leak on the Service Module of the Starliner.

Already years late, Boeing's Starliner spacecraft continues to face delays as it prepares to launch NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams into space. The latest delay came as a problem with its ride to orbit, an Atlas V rocket, caused the first launch attempt late on May 6, 2024, to be scrubbed.

Part of NASA's commercial crew program, this long-delayed mission will represent the vehicle's first crewed launch. If successful, it will give NASA – and in the future, space tourists – more options for getting to low Earth orbit.

Following the retirement of NASA's space shuttle in 2011, NASA invited commercial space companies to help the agency transport cargo and crew to the International Space Station. In 2014, NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX to build their respective crew vehicles: Starliner and Dragon.

Boeing's vehicle, Starliner, was built to carry up to seven crew members to and from low Earth orbit. For NASA missions to the International Space Station, it will carry up to four at a time, and it's designed to remain docked to the station for up to seven months. At 15 feet, the capsule where the crew will sit is slightly bigger than an Apollo command module or a SpaceX Dragon.

Boeing designed Starliner to be partially reusable to reduce the cost of getting to space. Though the Atlas V rocket it will take to space and the service module that supports the craft are both expendable, Starliner's crew capsule can be reused up to 10 times, with a six-month turnaround. Boeing has built two flightworthy Starliners to date.

Starliner's development has come with setbacks. Though Boeing received US$4.2 billion from NASA, compared with $2.6 billion for SpaceX, Boeing spent more than $1.5 billion extra in developing the spacecraft.

Still, Boeing delayed the first crewed launch for Starliner from 2023 to 2024 because of additional problems. One involved Starliner's parachutes, which help to slow the vehicle as it returns to Earth. Tests found that some links in those parachute lines were weaker than expected, which could have caused them to break. A second problem was the use of flammable tape that could pose a fire hazard.

Given these difficulties, Starliner's success will be important for Boeing's future space efforts. Even if SpaceX's Dragon can successfully transport NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, the agency needs a backup. And that's where Starliner comes in.

Following the Challenger explosion in 1986 and the Columbia shuttle accident in 2003, NASA retired the space shuttle in 2011. The agency was left with few options to get astronauts to and from space. Having a second commercial crew vehicle provider means that NASA will not have to depend on one company or vehicle for space launches as it previously had to.

Perhaps more importantly, if Starliner is successful, it could compete with SpaceX. Though there's no crushing demand for space tourism right now, and Boeing has no plans to market Starliner for tourism anytime soon, competition is important in any market to drive down costs and increase innovation.

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