It should have just been another routine rocket launch. The launch team had successfully done it all before, just before the start of the Covid Pandemic in December of 2019, but that would not be the case this past week for OFT-2.
The process all got off to a late start on July 29 with the initial roll to the pad of the Atlas V rocket at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Launch Station. This was the day before the scheduled launch of OFT-2. The ULA rocket and the Boeing Starliner Capsule all checked fine and were ready when suddenly the scheduled 2:53 PM ET launch was scrubbed. By the end that day, July 30th, NASA reported that a new Russian Space Station Module had misfired some thrusters and moved the International Space Station a few degrees. With the Starliner’s destination being the ISS, NASA wanted time to check out and assess the situation at the station. Some news sources say the ISS was moved more than just a few degrees, but on Sunday, August 1 NASA gave the okay to launch Starliner on August 3rd.
Once again, the Atlas Rocket variant with two solid rocket boosters attached made its way from the VIF or Vertical Integration Facility to the launch pad. However, during the final check out at the pad Boeing detected some unexpected valve position indications in the propulsion system in the Spacecraft Service Module. Boeing first detected this issue shortly after severe thunderstorms passed over Kennedy Space Center on Monday. According to Boeing, engineering teams cycled the Service Module propulsion system valves with the Starliner and Atlas V on the launch pad and thereby ruled out a number of potential causes, including software, but were not sure the issue was resolved.
So, once again the spacecraft was powered down and the rocket and spacecraft will be rolled back to the VIF today. There, engineers will be able to physically inspect the issue and test the systems.
“We’re going to let the data lead our work,” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager, Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program. “Our team has worked diligently to ensure the safety and success of this mission, and we will not launch until our vehicle is performing nominally and our teams are confident it is ready to fly.”
So, for now the OFT-2 Starliner launch is on indefinite hold and thereby further delaying the start of this critical unpiloted test flight to prove the ship is ready to transport astronauts to the ISS from the United States.