Anomaly deals setback to Boeing’s space taxi plans

Engine test
Aerojet Rocketdyne conducts a 2016 test firing of the launch abort engines designed for use on Boeing’s Starliner. The engines feature a new type of propellant valve. (Aerojet Rocketdyne Photo)

Boeing confirms that it experienced an anomaly last month during tests of the engines that would be used on its CST-100 Starliner space taxi in the event of a launch emergency.

The anomaly resulted in an unwanted leak of propellant, and although no hardware was destroyed, the issue is likely to contribute to further delays for NASA’s plan to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station on the Starliner.

An updated flight schedule for the first flights of the Starliner as well as SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is due to be released within the next week or two. The most recently issued schedule, which is now out of date, called for uncrewed and crewed demonstration flights to take place by the end of 2018.

Word of last month’s anomaly was first reported by Ars Technica. In a follow-up statement, Boeing confirmed that the anomaly came at the end of a hot-fire test of the launch abort engines at the White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico. The firing was conducted in preparation for a full test of the launch abort system, a crucial milestone in the Starliner development effort.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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