Boeing Identifies Two Leaks on the Starliner, Which Has Astronauts Onboard Headed to the Space Station

  • NASA initially authorized the launch of the Starliner with one helium leak, but engineers have since discovered two additional leaks.

  • Boeing has stated that the spacecraft is designed to withstand up to five leaks, which means it can handle two more in addition to the ones it has now.

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It seems that the launch of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft to the International Space Station will remain seeped in tension until the very last minute.

Context: The spacecraft faced a helium leak during launch. The United Launch Alliance (ULA) aborted the first launch attempt on May 6 due to an issue with the Atlas V rocket. At that time, Boeing and NASA engineers inspected the Starliner and found a helium leak in a faulty rubber seal.

NASA concluded that the leak didn’t pose an unacceptable risk to its astronauts, so it decided to proceed with the launch without making Boeing fix it, which would have added a few months of delay to the mission.

Boeing has identified two new leaks mid-flight. While astronauts were sleeping, Boeing aerospace engineer Brandon Burroughs explained how things stood at the moment during a live statement: “[Ground crews] are monitoring two new [helium] leaks beyond the original leak detected prior to liftoff.”

The original leak was in the port 2 helium manifold, which is connected to one of the reaction control system (RCS) thrusters—small engines responsible for adjusting the spacecraft’s orientation. Now, there’s a new leak in the port 2 manifold, and Boeing has closed the valve to contain the helium leak. Additionally, there’s another leak in the port 1 manifold.

The Starliner is currently on its way to the International Space Station. Boeing has reported that the helium leak is still within the safe levels for operating the spacecraft. It had previously mentioned that the Starliner could handle up to four additional leaks beyond the one identified on the ground (or a total of five leaks).

As of now, the amount of helium being leaked isn’t toxic (it was 7 ounces per day on the ground) and doesn’t pose a danger to astronauts NASA Butch Wilmore and Sunita Williams, according to Boeing. The spacecraft is proceeding with its plan to dock with the International Space Station on Thursday at 12:15 p.m. ET / 9:15 a.m. PST.

Image | NASA

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