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Helium leak in service module prompts another delay for Starliner launch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Will the fourth time be a charm?

Boeing’s first Starliner mission carrying astronauts into space has been delayed once again – this time until at least next week, the company said in a news release Tuesday.

The historic launch was originally scheduled for May 6, but it was postponed for a valve problem on the Atlas V’s Centaur upper stage.

The target date was bumped to May 10 and then, most recently, to Friday because the rocket had to be rolled off the pad to the assembly facility to replace the valve.

Now, a helium leak in the Starliner has prompted NASA and Boeing to push the date to May 21.

“Starliner teams are working to resolve a small helium leak detected in the spacecraft’s service module,” Boeing said.
Engineers traced the leak to a flange in one of the 28 control thrusters that maneuver the spacecraft. Helium is used in spacecraft thruster systems to allow the thrusters to fire and is not combustible or toxic. Boeing said in its statement.

NASA and Boeing are developing spacecraft testing and operational solutions to address the issue. As a part of the testing, Boeing will bring the propulsion system up to flight pressurization just as it does prior to launch, and then allow the helium system to vent naturally to validate existing data and strengthen flight rationale.

Mission teams also completed a thorough review of the data from the May 6 launch attempt and are not tracking any other issues.

The Atlas V and Starliner remain in the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

The launch will be the 100th overall mission for the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, and the first time the vehicle has carried crew. The mission will also be the first crewed launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station since the Apollo era.

Astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams, still in preflight quarantine, returned to Houston on May 10 to spend extra time with their families as prelaunch operations progress. The duo will fly back to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in the coming days.
The duo will be the first to launch aboard Starliner to the space station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. They will spend about a week at the orbiting laboratory before returning to Earth and making a parachute and airbag-assisted landing in the southwestern United States.
After the mission, NASA will finalize certification of Starliner and its systems for crewed rotation missions to the space station.

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