NASA, ULA and Boeing now targeting June 1 for Starliner test flight after several scrubs

Officials with NASA, Boeing, and United Launch Alliance (ULA) are analyzing what issues caused several Starliner test scrubs in May. 

"It’s so complicated. There’s so many things going on. We really just needed to work through it as a team," said Ken Bowersox during a media teleconference call on Friday. Bowersox is the Space Operations Mission Directorate for NASA. 

Those complications caused NASA, Boeing, and ULA to scrub the highly anticipated crewed mission that was initially scheduled to lift off on May 6. 

Starliner is supposed to be NASA’s newest spacecraft for sending astronauts to space, but the crewed flight test hasn’t happened. Officials say it’s because of three big issues. 

"I know there is some frustration out there about us sharing information in a timely way," said NASA’s Associate Administrator Jim Free.

The ULA Atlas 5, which is the rocket Starliner will launch on, had a valve issue, which required it to be completely replaced earlier in the month. 

"We had to offload the weight on the Centaur, essentially. We used a crane to lift Starliner, not off of the Centaur, but to pull up on the Centaur and take the load off the Centaur stage," said Steve Stich, the program manager for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. 


Then, crews found a helium leak about the size of a softball on the Starliner capsule.

"We figured the most likely cause of the leak is a seal that seals the flange," added Stich. 

So far, NASA and Boeing have not been able to completely seal the leak, but they say they feel confident they can monitor it during the crewed test flight. 

Astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore left Florida after the scrubs and are still in quarantine in Houston. They’ve also been in the simulator practicing for emergency situations on board.

"It's backed by test data. It's backed by flight data and the guidance and navigation modeling that reinforce that this technique will work," said Mark Nappi, who leads Boeing’s commercial crew program. 

Another concern crews are studying is how the leak would affect the de-orbit burn. 

"If we had the right circumstances of failures, we could lose the eight RCF jets," said Stich, saying that is a low risk. 

At this time, NASA, Boeing, and ULA are targeting a new launch opportunity on Saturday, June 1, for the next launch attempt. Another safety check will be done on Wednesday before the rocket is rolled back to the pad.