Boeing Won’t Delay Starliner’s First Crewed Flight Again: The Company Plans to Launch It Even Though It Has a 'Small Helium Leak'

  • The aerospace company and NASA say the gas leak isn’t a safety issue.

  • If everything goes according to plan, the Starliner will take off from Cape Canaveral on June 1.

Boeing won’t delay Starliner’s first crewed flight again
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On June 1 at 2:25 ET, Boeing's Starliner will blast off atop an Atlas V rocket from Space Force Station’s SLC-41 pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida. If everything goes according to plan, it will be the first crewed flight for Boeing’s spacecraft, which competes with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.

However, this mission, which will carry two astronauts to the International Space Station, will begin with a small, unrepaired helium leak. As reported by CBS, the technical problem was discovered after United Launch Alliance (ULA) canceled the May 6 launch to replace an oxygen valve on the rocket’s upper stage, known as the "Centaur."

Flying With a Helium Leak

NASA and Boeing have concluded that the small gas leak in the service module affects only one of the 28 thrusters in the RCS control system and isn’t a safety concern. NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager Steve Stich said the leak might not be a problem even if it increased 100-fold.

Stich stressed that NASA didn’t take this issue lightly. The team spent about a month analyzing the problem and determining the risks. Interestingly, they decided against to fixing the problem before launch, as it seems that the effort required to fix it wasn’t worth it.

Boeing spacecraft

Mark Nappi, director of Boeing's Commercial Crew Program, noted last week that repairing the leak is a “pretty complicated” process. That’s because the spacecraft would have to return to the company’s factory for disassembly. The result? An even longer delay for a theoretically minor failure.

Despite this drawback, the space agency and the manufacturer expect the mission to succeed. Stich added that helium leaks aren’t uncommon in space. The NASA program manager recalled that space shuttles have suffered similar leaks several times and that he's seen similar cases in Crew Dragon capsules.

Starliner’s first crewed flight will be a seven-day mission to the ISS by NASA astronauts Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams. The mission will allow the space agency to test all the spacecraft’s systems, an essential step before regular flights begin. If the weather affects the launch, NASA can try again on June 2, 5, or 6.

Images | Boeing

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