Boeing spacecraft designed to fly Nasa astronauts to International Space Station faces major setback

Since 2011 the space agency has had to rely on Russia to fly its astronauts to space, at a cost of more than $80m per seat

Christian Davenport
Monday 23 July 2018 13:42
Comments
SpaceX launches used Dragon cargo ship to International Space Station

The spacecraft Boeing plans to use to fly Nasa astronauts to the International Space Station suffered a significant setback when officials discovered a propellant leak during a test of its emergency abort system, the company confirmed.

The firm told The Washington Post that is has "been conducting a thorough investigation with assistance from our Nasa and industry partners. We are confident we found the cause and are moving forward with corrective action."

The leak is likely to delay its launch schedule and is another setback for a program that has faced a series of problems. It also comes as Vice President Mike Pence is expected to announce the crews for the first missions during a ceremony in early August at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

Along with SpaceX, Boeing is under contract from Nasa to fly astronauts to the space station.

The so-called "Commercial Program" would restore Nasa's ability to fly humans from the United States - a capability that was lost when the Space Shuttle retired in 2011.

Since then, the space agency has had to rely on Russia to fly its astronauts to space, at a cost of more than $80m (£61m) per seat.

Under the program, Boeing's contract was worth as much as $4.2bn (£3.19bn); SpaceX's was $2.6bn (£1.9bn) for the same number of flights.

The program's first test launches with crews on board were supposed to happen this year. But a recent Government Accountability report said the company's schedules "are aggressive" and that they "have set ambitious - rather than realistic - dates, only to frequently delay them."

SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Elon Musk, has also faced challenges and is working to show Nasa that it has fixed a problem that caused one of its uncrewed Falcon 9 rockets to explode during fuelling in 2016.

In its report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said that further delays in the program could "disrupt access to" the space station - which would be an enormous embarrassment for Nasa.

The space agency has been counting on Boeing and SpaceX to fly astronauts there.

But the GAO said the delays could mean their spacecraft are not certified before the last flights Nasa has secured for its astronauts on Russian rockets, which would keep an American presence on the station at the start of 2020.

Should delays persist, Nasa could find itself with no way to get to the station, the orbiting laboratory that has cost Nasa $100bn to build and operate.

In a statement, Nasa said that, "flying safely has always taken precedence over schedule. As our partners are finalising their systems, we're assessing remaining technical details and schedules for flight tests with and without crew."

The agency said it plans to announce an update on the test flight schedules next month.

Boeing said that it discovered the propellant leak during the emergency abort test in June at the White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico.

"The engines successfully ignited and ran for the full duration," the company said in a statement. "During engine shutdown, an anomaly occurred that resulted in a propellant leak."

The GAO report also said it was concerned about another problem with the abort system, causing it to "tumble, which could pose a threat to the crew's safety."

Boeing has said it fixed that problem, and that it would "meet or exceed all Nasa requirements."

Washington Post

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in