Boeing Removes A “Mile” Of Flammable Tape From Ship Ahead Of Maiden Astronaut Launch

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After a multi year delay that has seen several scrubs and scheduling problems, Boeing is ready to become NASA’s second private contractor for crewed missions to the International Space Station (ISS). Boeing’s CFT crew flight test mission is slated for liftoff in May as of now, and representatives from the company and NASA shared details about the flight earlier today. The upcoming mission will be Boeing’s first crewed flight to the ISS, and it follows Starliner’s orbital flight test (OFT) in 2022, which was the last time the spacecraft took to the skies.

A lot has changed on the ship since then, with Boeing’s Starliner lead Mark Nappi explaining today that his firm is confident with the spacecraft’s parachute system and wiring tape, which were key problems that had delayed CFT originally slated to take place last year.

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Two key issues with Starliner that have delayed its first crewed orbital test flight by a year involved its parachute system and protective tape covering its wiring system. Both of these were crucial problems, as the parachute system did not meet NASA standards for redundancy while the tape used was flammable.

During today’s conference, Boeing’s Nappi shared that the firm has tested the new parachute system and has implemented the changes not only on the current spacecraft but also on the next Starliner mission called Starliner 1. If CFT is successful and NASA certifies the ship, along with a license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), then Starliner 1 will mark Boeing’s first operational crewed flight to the ISS.

According to NASA’s Steve Stich, this certification should take place over the course of this year after Starliner returns from space in May after a two week long mission on the ISS.

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft pictured in NASA’s facilities in March 2022. Image: Boeing

Since CFT will be the first Starliner mission to fly crew, Boeing will be on the watch out for “how the environment is controlled during the mission with crew in the vehicle,” explained Nappi. Some of these variables include observing the heat generated inside Starliner, the humidity levels and cooling system performance.

Apart from the parachute, Boeing also had to rework the wire harness tape on Starliner. According to the Boeing executive:

The tape issue. We went through the vehicle and we either removed or we put barriers in place or we found, proved, that the area that had the tape wasn’t susceptible to this issue. And so we’ve removed nearly a mile of tape from the vehicle, and mitigated about 85 to 90 percent of the areas that the tape is installed on the vehicle. We’ve closed all that paper, and we’re ready to go fly.

Boeing is currently fueling Starliner, with propellant loading due to finish next week before the rocket is transported to the launch site. The firm has also completed several reviews, including an executive review this week with the CEO to ensure that Starliner is ready to fly.

The next Starliner reviews will see NASA evaluate Boeing’s progress to ensure no pressing issues remain on the ship before its flight. One of the final NASA reviews will be the agency review late next month.

Starliner will fly NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams to the ISS. Boeing is currently proceeding with manufacturing three of the six ships for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP), and according to its Starliner lead, the approval for the next three should be in place later this year.

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