Things haven’t gone as smoothly with the Starliner as Boeing and NASA would’ve hoped. The launch of the Starliner was scrubbed due to a problem with valves. The spacecraft had to be removed from the launchpad and disassembled to address the problem, and currently, NASA and Boeing have been unable to fix the issue.
NASA issued a statement on October 8 confirming that engineers had freed all but one of the 13 stuck propellant valves that prevented the launch in early August. It’s not that the engineers have been unable to free the last stuck valve. They purposefully left it stuck to allow them to preserve forensics to search for the root cause of the issue.
The current theory on what caused the stuck valves is an interaction between moisture and nitrogen tetroxide propellant. However, it has not been made clear how moisture would have gotten into the propellant. Boeing has disassembled three of the valves and intends to remove three more to inspect them. The results of those inspections will determine what Boeing has to do to get Starliner ready for future missions.
Options for moving forward to launch include minor refurbishment of the spacecraft to a complete replacement of the service module. Wherever happens with the refurbishment of the capsule, NASA has been clear that the launch will not happen this year. Instead, the earliest launch date would be sometime in the first half of 2022.
The Starliner mission will have it going to the ISS, where it will dock with the space station. The first opportunity for a free docking port will happen early next year. However, NASA officials have been clear that it’s too early to narrow down a potential launch date at this time.