Boeing calls off first crewed Starliner launch to space station due to rocket valve issues

Boeing calls off first crewed Starliner launch to space station due to rocket valve issues

Boeing has called off the highly-anticipated first launch of its Starliner rocket carrying astronauts to the International Space Station due to a valve problem on the spacecraft.

The Boeing spacecraft was scheduled to lift off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 10:34pm ET, carrying astronauts Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams on its first attempt at a crewed test flight.

But the launch was cancelled about two hours ahead of the planned liftoff.

Mission control called for a “scrub” of the launch attempt after an anomaly was detected on an oxygen valve on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

The issue involved an oxygen relief valve on the upper stage of the company’s rocket, the Associated Press reported citing an engineer at ULA.

“ULA Launch Director Tom Heter III has made the decision to the launch team that launch operations will not continue tonight for AtlasV and Starliner,” United Launch Alliance posted on its official X account.

“In a situation like this, if we see any data signature is not something that we have seen before, then we are just simply not willing to take any chances with what is our most precious payload,” the ULA engineer said.

Within minutes of calling off the launch, Boeing’s new astrovan was at the launch pad to ferry back Mr Wilmore and Ms Williams.

It remains unclear when the team would try again to launch the test pilots.

Nasa had hired both Boeing and SpaceX over a decade ago to carry astronauts to and from the ISS , paying both companies billions of dollars.

While SpaceX has been shuttling crew and cargo to the ISS since 2020, Starliner needs to complete a key final test before Nasa can authorise Boeing.

SpaceX chief Elon Musk took a dig at Boeing in an X post on Monday, saying “SpaceX finished 4 years sooner.”

“Although Boeing got $4.2 billion to develop an astronaut capsule and SpaceX only got $2.6 billion, SpaceX finished 4 years sooner...Too many non-technical managers at Boeing,” Mr Musk said.

Boeing’s first test flight sans a crew in 2019 failed to reach the space station.

Later when Boeing repeated the flight, it encountered capsule problems, parachute issues, and flammable tape.

The latest scrub is another setback for Boeing as it has already experienced years of delays and budget overshoots with its Starliner programme.