NASA and Boeing's Starliner to Return to Earth Later Than Expected Due to Thrust Issues

TapTechNews July 11th news, on local time July 10th, NASA and Boeing held a press conference, stating that in the ground test of the Reaction Control System (RCS) thruster conducted in White Sands, New Mexico, they failed to fully replicate the problems that occurred with the Starliner thruster in space, so more tests are needed. It is expected that the CST-100 can only return to Earth from the International Space Station at the earliest by the end of July.

Steve Stich, NASA's commercial crew program manager, said that engineers have used heaters to try to replicate the high-temperature conditions experienced by the thruster ignition itself and exposure to sunlight, but cannot reach the expected temperature.

He said that the doghouses structure on the service module of the Starliner that houses the thruster may retain more heat than predicted, and engineers are studying whether more tests are needed as the performance of the thruster needs to be modeled before the spacecraft leaves the space station.

He pointed out that the RCS thruster is not used frequently when leaving the space station and deorbiting, and the actual ignition process will be completed by another larger thruster.

He emphasized that although the Starliner can now safely return Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams to Earth, they hope to wait until the ground tests and related work are completed to end the CFT test mission. We will proceed step by step according to the established procedures, he said, and then approval will be given for undocking and landing.

It is worth noting that SpaceX's next crew rotation mission, Crew-9, will be launched in mid-August, so the Starliner must leave before that to make way for the docking port of the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Mark Nappi, vice president of Boeing and manager of the commercial crew program, said that engineers are handling more than 30 measures related to the thruster problem and helium leak, and more than half of them have been completed, and all work is planned to be completed by the end of next week.

NASA and Boeings Starliner to Return to Earth Later Than Expected Due to Thrust Issues_0

According to TapTechNews' previous report, the Starliner was originally only planned to conduct a 10-day flight test and dock with the International Space Station on June 6. However, during the approach to the orbital laboratory, problems occurred with five thrusters of the spacecraft, but fortunately, four thrusters were successfully restored later, enabling the docking work to proceed smoothly.

NASA and Boeing said that they will not immediately determine the return date but will make a decision after the ground tests are completed and all analyses are done.

Previously, officials said that due to battery limitations, the maximum time limit for the Starliner to dock with the International Space Station is 45 days. But Stich said at the press conference that these batteries can be charged by the space station, so the stay time can be extended.

In addition, NASA officials said that the Starliner has run well during the docking period and can still be used as a lifeboat to bring the astronauts back to Earth in an emergency. Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager of Boeing's commercial space program, reiterated Stich's remarks, saying, We are not trapped on the International Space Station, and the crew is not in danger. When we decide to let Sunita and Butch return to Earth, there will be no additional risks.