A Boeing Starliner prepares for its first spaceflight after engineers removed a mile of flammable tape

The Starliner spacecraft is finally ready for launch, with the launch scheduled for May. Getting to this point has been difficult for Boeing's crew vehicle, which has suffered a series of unfortunate delays over the years, most recently related to two major safety hazards discovered aboard the spacecraft.

A Boeing CST-100 Starliner is scheduled to carry NASA astronauts Sunita Williams and Barry “Butch” Wilmore to the International Space Station (ISS) no later than the first day of May. During a press conference held on Friday, company representatives affirmed their confidence in the company Starliner canopies and protective tapewhich caused the last several delays in the launch of the spacecraft.

The crew Starliner was originally supposed to launch on July 21, 2023. But just weeks before liftoff, the company announced it would stop the launch attempt to address newly discovered issues with the crew vehicle.

Teams have begun fueling the Starliner spacecraft at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Teams have begun fueling the Starliner spacecraft at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
picture: Boeing

The first safety concern was the loading capacity of the Starliner's three parachutes, which were designed to land the crew vehicle safely. The failure load limit for the fabric parts on the parachutes was found to be lower than expected, meaning that if one parachute failed, the remaining two parachutes would not be able to slow the Starliner vehicle on its way to landing in New Mexico.

The second concern concerns the hundreds of feet of protective tape used to cover the wiring harnesses inside the Starliner, which turned out to be flammable. “We went through the vehicle and either removed it, put barriers in place, or found that the area where the tape was was not susceptible to this issue,” said Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager of Boeing's Commercial Crew Program. During the press conference on Friday. “We removed approximately a mile of tape from the vehicle, and we thinned out about 85 to 90 percent of the areas of the vehicle where the tape was installed.”

The company also developed a new parachute system that meets NASA safety standards. “We shut it all down [paperwork]We are ready to fly, Nabi said.

The upcoming flight marks Boeing's first crewed flight to the International Space Station. It is also the first Starliner launch since an unmanned test flight of the vehicle suffered a malfunction in May 2022, when The thruster used in the orbital maneuver failed unexpectedly. During the inaugural unmanned test of the Starliner vehicle in 2019, The spacecraft failed to dock with the International Space Stationleading to further testing and troubleshooting.

It was a Boeing flight, to put it very mildly. The company under A $4.3 billion Contract with NASA Commercial crew program To transport astronauts and cargo back and forth to the International Space Station. NASA's other commercial partner, SpaceX, has landed its seventh crew on Earth after spending 199 days in space, marking another successful round-trip to the International Space Station while industry rival Boeing remains at zero.

“It's always difficult to fly into space,” Steve Stich, director of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, said Friday. “There are always challenges with every launch vehicle and spacecraft, so having this second transportation system is very important to us.”

NASA relies primarily on SpaceX to transport astronauts to the International Space Station. Before the company developed the Dragon crew vehicle, astronauts primarily rode on the Russian Soyuz crew spacecraft. NASA, facing mounting tensions with Roscosmos over the rising costs of Soyuz seats and its desire for independence in the field, has begun looking for commercial alternatives to launches from American soil.

NASA will still sometimes Buy a seat from RussiaBut it prefers to work with its business partners. Russia recently Was thwarted Three astronauts, including NASA astronaut Tracy Dyson, were launched about 20 seconds before liftoff due to a voltage drop in the power supply.

If a Boeing Starliner eventually reaches the International Space Station with a crew on board, NASA can begin to rely on its commercial partners for these orbital flights.

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