The launch of Boeing’s crew-carrying space capsule the CST-100 Starliner may be delayed following an “anomaly” during testing of the capsule's launch abort engines.
Boeing says they now know what went wrong but have not released details if this will cause delays in the development of the vehicle.
Boeing has been developing the Starliner for the best part of the last decade as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The capsule is designed to carry NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Space Station (ISS), a task that is currently given to the Russians.
Aerojet Rocketdyne responsible for abort engine design
While Boeing is responsible for the design and execution of the vehicle, its launch abort engines are manufactured by Aerojet Rocketdyne. These small engines are an integral part of the capsule's design and are designed to fire during an emergency situation to whisk the Starliner and its occupants to safety.
These engines have been hot-fire tested by both Boeing and Aerojet. But during the June testing of the engines, something went wrong. During the hot-fire test, that sees the hardware ignited on a test stand after the engines were shut down something went wrong and a propellant leak was observed.
NASA confident Starliner problems will be ironed out
“We have been conducting a thorough investigation with assistance from our NASA and industry partners,” the company said in a statement about the testing. “We are confident we found the cause and are moving forward with corrective action. Flight safety and risk mitigation is why we conduct such rigorous testing and anomalies are a natural part of any test program.”
The company has not released any information about whether the mishap will cause delays in the capsule's future milestones. Boeing and NASA have said that they expect the capsule to be tested without crew this August and may do with crew testing before the end of the year.
Boeing has also said it plans to complete a pad abort test, in which the launch abort engines will be tested on a Starliner capsule before the end of the Summer. SpaceX is also developing a capsule for manned missions.
SpaceX also expected to face delays
SpaceX too was expected to test both unmanned and manned missions this year, but according to sources close to SpaceX, these dates are likely to be pushed back. The Government Accountability Office has released multiple reports voicing concerns that the current schedule of Boeing and NASA is too aggressive.
With this in mind and the latest reports from Boeing, it will come as no surprise if the testing of the vehicles is pushed to early 2019.