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Boeing has been working with NASA to explore space for decades, which is why it was so surprising to see the company’s highly acclaimed CST-100 Starliner capsule stumble over and over again. Following last year’s canceled test flight, NASA and Boeing have confirmed that Starliner is ready to take another step in the validation mission, which failed in 2019. reports Ars Technica.

Starliner is part of NASA’s sales crew program, which was settled on offers from Boeing and SpaceX a few years ago. SpaceX developed a crew version of its reliable Dragon spacecraft, which allowed it to become the only human transport service provider for NASA as Boeing struggled to bring Starliner off the ground. So how did we get here?

At first it seemed that Starliner would receive a certificate from NASA before SpaceX, but then the problems began to appear. There was a fuel leak in the summer of 2018, which began a cascade of delays, culminating in the catastrophic orbital flight test (OFT) in December 2019. The spacecraft suffered a software error at launch, which led to a blockage in the wrong orbit and can not meet with the International Space Station as planned. A second mistake during the re-entry nearly cut off the ignition of the engines, which could have destroyed the spacecraft. Boeing rectified these errors and was preparing for a repeat of the OFT-2 in the fall of 2021, but jammed fuel valves cleaned this one. Boeing and NASA decided to return Starliner to the production base after finding that 13 of the 24 oxidant valves did not respond.

Now, Boeing says the problem has been identified and fixed and is indeed related to humidity, as originally thought. Nitrous oxide oxidizer was loaded into the spacecraft weeks before the test, but moisture seeped into the system as Starliner sat on Cape Canaveral in anticipation of the big day. Humidity in Florida? Who would have thought? Water and oxidant reacted to create nitric acid, which began to corrode the aluminum valves and prevent them from working. The design of the valve has not changed as a result, but Boeing has added new seals that should prevent moisture from entering the drive system. In addition, it will not charge Starliner as much in advance in the future.

In the coming days, Starliner will be mounted on the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket for OFT-2. The goal of this unmanned mission is to prove that Starliner can autonomously reach orbit, meet with the International Space Station and then return safely to Earth. If it can, NASA will conduct a test flight with a crew later this year with three astronauts on board. This will give NASA two private launch platforms to transport crew to and from the ISS, but another failure could mean doom for Starliner.

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https://www.extremetech.com/extreme/335043-nasa-and-boeing-say-starliner-is-finally-ready-for-another-test-flight

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