But during a post-launch briefing, officials revealed that the thrusters didn’t work exactly as intended.
“We had two to thrusters fail,” said Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager of Boeing’s Starliner program. “The first one that fired, it fired for a second and then it shut down. The flight control system did what it was supposed to, and it turned it over to the second thruster.”
That thruster then fired for only about 25 seconds before shutting down, according to Nappi. The flight control system again took over and kicked on a third thruster, which fired as intended.
“The system is designed to be redundant and it preformed like it was supposed to,” Nappi told reporters Thursday night.
The issue is not expected to impact the overall mission, Nappi said.
Eventually the capsule had to be rolled back from the launch pad. When engineers were not able to fix it at the site, it ultimately had to be taken all the way back to Boeing’s factory for more thorough troubleshooting.
Boeing and NASA disagree, according to the report and comments from NASA officials during recent press conferences.
Their investigation pointed to moisture getting into the valves and causing “corrosion” and “binding,” Boeing vice president and Starliner program manager, Mark Nappi, said at a press conference last week. That led the company to devise a short-term solution, creating a purge system, which involves a small bag, designed to keep out corrosion-causing moisture. NASA and Boeing say they’re comfortable with this solution.
“We’re really in good shape to go fly that system,” NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager Steve Stich said last week.
But that may not be the end of it. Boeing revealed last week that it may ultimately have to redesign the valves.
“There’s a little bit of additional testing that we want to go do, and based on those results, we’ll solidify what kind of changes we’ll make in the future,” Nappi said. “We’ll probably know more in the coming months.”
If Boeing does move forward with a more extensive redesign of the valves, it’s not clear how long that would take or if it could further delay Boeing’s first astronaut mission, which, at this point, is years behind schedule. The hangups with Starliner also cost the company about half a billion dollars, according to public documents.
Meanwhile, SpaceX, once thought to be the underdog competitor in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, has already launched five astronaut missions for NASA as well as two tourism missions. The inaugural astronaut launch of its vehicle, the Crew Dragon, became the first to carry astronauts to orbit from US soil since the Space Shuttle Program retired in 2011.