back to article Starliner takes off ... back to the factory and not space

Boeing's troubled CST-100 Starliner capsule, once expected to ferry astronauts to and from space, is heading back to the workshop after suffering mechanical failures. The spacecraft's second unmanned flight test was supposed to take place this month though that launch was delayed, and now scrapped, after 13 of the valves …

  1. Vulch

    The problem

    The problem seems to be down to leakage through seals which was expected meeting humid air in the void behind which wasn't. In space the void is vented to vacuum to get rid of the leakage, but on the ground is connected to the outisde atmosphere and NTO plus water creates nitric acid which has corroded the valves. Humid air in Florida, who could have forseen that?

    1. Mishak Silver badge

      Re: The problem

      If that's the case, that would be a very basic error to have made.

      Let's hope there are no other "surprises" waiting to be found.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: The problem

        In Liftoff, the book about the early days of SpaceX, they lose the 2nd or 3rd launch because of corrosion in the salt air of the little Pacific island they are working from - with no hanger.

        Except they were new to this and Boeing have been launching from Alabama and Florida since the 1940s

        1. Vulch

          Re: The problem

          The first launch of the Falcon 1 had an aluminium locking nut give way due to salt corrosion so it piddled kerosene over the outside of the engine which turned out to be a Bad Thing (tm). Easy fix, aluminium nuts replaced with stainless steel equivalents.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: The problem

      If sea air caused the problem, taking it back to an air conditioned factory means they won't be able to test their fix there.

      How very Boeing of them.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: The problem

        The requirement is that it passes the test and the test has to be carried out in a certified testing location. It doesn't say anything about the test having to be anything like the real conditions - it's all detailed in this 960 page PowerPoint we sent to the FAA

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Is that picture and the capsule deliberately made to look like R2D2, or is it just me?

    1. fargonebastage

      Re: R2D2

      that is not the droid you're looking for

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: R2D2

        Boeing is the worlds biggest weapons maker and essentially owns the DoD - but there is no way they are going to anger the Disney Corporation

        1. Bartholomew Bronze badge

          Re: R2D2

          > Boeing is the worlds biggest weapons maker and essentially owns the DoD - but there is no way they are going to anger the Disney Corporation

          Last thing you want is the Disney Corporation going nuclear on your @$$.

  3. NetBlackOps

    Pretty sad when even the capsule’s saying…

    If it’s Boeing, I ain’t going.

    1. Joe W Silver badge

      Re: Pretty sad when even the capsule’s saying…

      If it's Boeing it's not going - anywhere.

      That said, pity for the engineers involved. The manglement likely cut their budget more than once to give themselves nice bonus payments (for the cost saving). And a race is always more interesting if it is two or more.

  4. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Poor Starliner

    On the other hand, it's not very surprising that a company that has forgotten how to make a plane properly has trouble making a rocket.

    Just sayin'

    1. spold Silver badge

      Re: Poor Starliner

      Starliner one minute, flatliner next minute.

  5. bryces666

    this is boeing

    can't they just smooth it over with a software fix and move on ;)

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: this is boeing

      Or just get their congress person to call NASA and relax the testing requirements

  6. xyz123 Silver badge

    Ever since Boeing murdered hundreds of people by refusing to add safety equipment, so their planes plunged headfirst into the ground, they've been on a roll.

    Hey at least THIS time they managed to get the pointy bit of the 1960s tech era rocket pointing towards the big blue space overhead!

  7. JohnMurray

    The Boeing merger with Mcdonnell-Douglas seems to have led to an excess of bean-counters and a lack of engineers. Good job they're not into engineering or anything mechanical

    1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

      Ahhh the good old 'excess of bean counters' claim.

      My experience theres usually just enough bean counters and its usually the huge reams of hangers on that are the cause of the problem.

      Hence having pre-meetings about the subject for today's meeting, and a post meeting debrief on how the meeting went with paper reports from everyone. all of which takes about 8 &1/2 hours leaving us 15 minutes to do any real work (and then having to write that up for the next day's meeting arrrgh)

      Or to call out an example from my world recently(cue heavy NSFW cursing), I would like to talk to the product designer from the customer and to a tooling engineer from one of our suppliers.

      However our manglement insists everything has to go through them.... which results in the wrong details passed to me, the wrong spec passed to the tooling engineer and the wrong tool arriving......

      But its all my fault.

      1. Mishak Silver badge


        Did you see the message Elon sent to management?

        In summary - "If you block information flow up the chain and it turns out that is was important, then you're out"!

      2. Irongut

        If you knew anything about the Boeing-McDD situation you'd realise it isn't just a claim.

    2. TVU Silver badge

      "The Boeing merger with Mcdonnell-Douglas seems to have led to an excess of bean-counters and a lack of engineers"

      Indeed, and tl;dr version is that in the merged company, the bean counter McDonnell Douglas managers then effectively took control of Boeing, so diminishing Boeing's engineering safety culture, and they then moved the headquarters from Washington State to Chicago so diminishing communications and direct, personal managerial interactions with engineers. The rest is history.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Oh, bull. After the merger Condit, the Boeing CEO, was CEO of the combined companies.

      It was McDonnell Douglas engineers that built the first space capsules, and fighters such as the F4 Phantom, the F15 Eagle and the F18.

      But all Boeing's troubles are due to McDonnel Douglas "bean counters" from fourteen years ago, most of whom are probably long gone.

      The blame for Boeing's problems with the 737 Max design and software, as well as their problems with the current hardware, software and testing primarily belongs to one group: their engineers, who seem more focused on deflecting blame than doing their jobs.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Why are you talking about aircraft from over 40 years ago? If you want to go back in time then we can talk about the 747 and it’s derivatives and it’s performance vs DC10.

        It’s 21st century companies and cultures being examined here. Not retired and deceased people.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Why are "bean counters" from a company that hasn't existed for 24 years being blamed for the incompetence of today's engineers at Boeing?

          It's nonsense.

  8. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Next space race

    If Boeing work really hard they might still get Starliner to the ISS before SpaceX send a Starship.

    1. Real Ale is Best

      Re: Next space race

      I certainly wouldn't bet on Starliner getting there before Starship.

      And if NASA won't allow SpaceX to dock, the next Starship can do a loop around the ISS on it's way to the moon.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Next space race

        Looping the ISS is a job for Roscosmos.

  9. Vader

    Maybe they should just stick making planes

    Oh wait they messed them up too.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: Maybe they should just stick making planes

      Boeing should just return to lumbering.

      1. spireite Silver badge

        Re: Maybe they should just stick making planes

        I would suggest that what the Starliner is, is a lawn dart from a very great height. This is in comparison to the 737Max lawn dart from 38,000 feet.

        I wouldn't trust Boeing to manufacturer a dart to throw at a Winmau at this point.

  10. Elledan

    Tough cookies

    While a glacial pace was not that unusual since the 1970s, with countless delays and schedule revisions for everything from the Space Shuttle to anything else vaguely space-related, this is not that era any more, as SpaceX's upcoming crew missions to the ISS keeps rubbing in. Yes, that upstart company people were laughing at a decade ago.

    Even as next month is likely to see the first orbital flight attempt by a SpaceX Starship, the rest of 'old Space' seem to be just standing around in bewilderment, trying to figure out whether they can get a crewed capsule to the ISS, or a first uncrewed SLS rocket into space before SpaceX does a crazy LEO-to-LTO mission before returning to Earth after scooping up a bit of Moon dust for funsies.

    At this rate Boeing Space is quickly proving itself to be not only irrelevant and outdated, but (like Blue Origin) sooner harmful to progress than helpful, what with lobbying US Congress to keep the sweet, sweet pork flowing.

    1. Muscleguy

      Re: Tough cookies

      Going up doesn’t seem to be a problem for Starship, it’s when it tries to land that unscheduled extreme disassembly occurs.

      1. Gary Stewart

        Re: Tough cookies

        To paraphrase a song from the lamentably late Tom Petty:

        "The La-an-ding is the hardest part"

        Plus you must have missed the last one. To be fair the next one, from orbit, is going to be much harder.

        It doesn't even have a drone ship to land on just to make it a bit easier.

      2. Adair Silver badge

        Re: Tough cookies

        You do realise that the Starship landing 'KA-BOOMS!' are all part of the prototyping process, i.e. they are learning to get the new system working right 'every time'. Amazingly that doesn't happen by magic, even when his muskiness says, "Make it so."

        They are, indeed, 'making it so' - as Elon knows full well.

        1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

          Re: Tough cookies

          In theory, theory and reality are the same. In reality, they're not.

          SpaceX are developing starship in the 'reality' realm, not purely theoretically. The fiery disassembly is a not-entirely-unexpected result of that.

  11. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    Bezos and Branson

    Both went up on their first 'commercial' flights. I wonder when Calhoun will be hopping aboard this thing?

  12. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    Space suppository

    I mean, only me sees it?

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Space suppository

      It takes a certain kind of mind.

  13. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    make way for other national priority missions.

    Wait...what? There are other "national priority missions" on the pad just waiting and hoping for a launch slot at very short notice? Or maybe there are missions that can be rolled out to a pad and launched with hours or days of notice?

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: make way for other national priority missions.

      No, but there are several missions that have already booked a slot and would be Most Displeased if Boeing prevented them from flying on time.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: make way for other national priority missions.

        Ah, thanks. So it's not so much giving up their slot as being "stuck in traffic" and stopping the people behind from getting away on time.

  14. Binraider Silver badge

    Boeing's core of engineers that delivered the 747-787 have been eroded - especially by the McDonnell Douglas lot. Decisions and design clearly aren't integrated any more, stupid stuff like the 787 battery fires, or Starliners lack of synchronised clocks are more than ample evidence of this. Don't get any of us started on the farce that is the 737Max.

    Too many managers, not enough responsibility for design integration. Leads to cost overruns, bloat and unreliability.

    Very successful business for printing money, but if I were an airline boss - or in military procurenent - I'd be looking elsewhere.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      >Very successful business for printing money, but if I were an airline boss - or in military procurenent - I'd be looking elsewhere.

      Where ?

      They successfully shut down Bombardier's C series.

      If you are an airline you can't buy Airbus without risking whose next in the Whitehouse

      If you are military what's your alternative МиГ ?

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        As far as I know, Airbus took over Bombardier's C series and is now selling those as A220. Boeing had a merger/join venture with Embrear (Brazil).

      2. spireite Silver badge

        Bombardier... wrong.

        Bombardier courted Boeing, to be taken over.

        Boeing made a huge mistake in not taking Bombardiers C-Series, because the C-Series was a great product to slot in to the Boeing series.

        Unfortunately , it would also decimate the 737 market, since the 737 should have been put out to pasture 10 years ago, and I wonder if Boeing was still smarting from the MD takeover lessons learned.

        As a result, Airbus stepped in - said thanks - and rebranded it the 220.

        Airbus were not concerned about it decimating the A320 family, different mission profiles really.

        Now, Boeing did have a purchase going on of Embraer, which they pulled out of in 2020, which is where your confusion lies.

        Embraer spent a fortune reorganising to separate out the Military arm from Commercial. They are/were taking Boeing to arbitration as Boeing had penalties for pulling out...

        1. Binraider Silver badge

          Re: Bombardier... wrong.

          I can confirm the C-series Bombardiers are absolutely excellent - as a passenger, comfortable and quiet. As an analyst starting at the statistics behind them, they are absolutely a leap ahead of the A320 and probably two leaps over the 737.

  15. This post has been deleted by its author

  16. vichardy

    i wonder if Boeing is paying for all this drama or does their contract have a way for Uncle Sam to fund it. The hallmark of old aerospace is that you do nothing unless paid for it and reap the 15% profit on anything spent, also known as 'cost plus'. The finance people abound with these kind of contracts.

    SpaceX has invested in its own future and is focused on innovation, and it shows.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Nope. Boeing are paying. The joke is that both SpaceX and Boeing bid for the contract to ship to the ISS and SpaceX asked for less money than Boeing - and so in gratitude NASA have paid them less.

      However NASA paid some development cash and then pay per mission. But there's only budget for one test mission, and so Boeing have been made to do this one again, at their own cost.

      Did a brief search. NASA's budget estimate is that SpaceX are costing them $55m per astronaut to ISS, while Beoing are $90m each. Which is about what they paid for the last Soyuz flight. linkylinkylinky

      I'd thought that there was development money, and then you got paid for a guaranteed number of flights under COTS. And I've read in several places that Boeing are paying for this second test flight. But it appears it's more complex than that and so Boeing have already had much of their cash up-front. Though I don't know if NASA can claw this back, if Boeing continue to balls things up - or if we'll still be reading about the 15th Boeing Starliner test in ten years time - while SpaceX are on their 4th contract to do multiple astronaut shuttle flights for NASA...

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