back to article Boeing's Calamity Capsule might take to space once again ... in the first half of 2022

NASA and Boeing have put a brave face on things following the choice to send a pair of 'nauts to the ISS with SpaceX's Crew Dragon instead of Starliner, and are insisting Boeing's capsule will launch in the first half of next year. The stacked Atlas V was hurriedly rolled back from the launch pad in August after valves …

  1. Mishak

    "oxidizer and moisture interactions", "Extra testing and validation are still required"...

    So, nothing new since the day the launch was scrubbed then?

    1. herman Silver badge

      Re: "oxidizer and moisture interactions", "Extra testing and validation are still required"...

      Also known as ice.

  2. KarMann Silver badge
    Facepalm

    "oxidizer and moisture interactions"…

    …in a rocket to be launched from Florida? How could the engineers possibly have seen that coming?

    On the other hand, while I don't know specifically where Boeing produces the Starliner, of course much of their production is in the Seattle area, which wouldn't give them much more excuse for not grokking humidity (pun intended).

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: "oxidizer and moisture interactions"…

      How could the engineers possibly have seen that coming?

      The same way engineers failed to see that cold weather might affect the flexibility of seals, or that a single angle-of-attack sensor might not be a good idea, or that building a pesticide plant in a major city might suffer a gas leak, or that turning off all the interlocks on a nuclear reactor might not have the desired effect, or, or, or...

      Sadly, the only way to learn is when things break - sometimes with painfully unpleasant consequences. Particularly when it's always been OK in the past.

      1. Mike 137 Silver badge

        Re: "oxidizer and moisture interactions"…

        "The same way engineers failed to see that cold weather might affect the flexibility of seals"

        On Challenger, the design engineers almost certainly did understand this problem. The original design would have prevented blow through, but they were forced to redesign the booster segment joints so the metal billets the segments were made from could be smaller in diameter. That led to the need for the seals to deform more under pressure, making the gas tightness more sensitive to changes in flexibility and actually exposing the seals to combustion products. The launch site engineers raised the issue as well (providing evidence from previous near miss launches), but were overruled by management, who were more concerned about maintaining the launch schedule as that could influence funding appropriations.

        The boosters were designed segmented for largely political reasons anyway - to allow them to be transported long distance from a manufacturer in a remote state. So failures of management and politics, not engineering, were the root causes of the accident.

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: "oxidizer and moisture interactions"…

          I agree - the design engineers knew. But the management/engineers(?) who made the go/no go decision? They were apparently told (see Feynman's analysis) but either didn't understand or chose to ignore the risk.

          However, the point remains. People will make risky decisions until one bites them.

      2. EricB123

        Re: "oxidizer and moisture interactions"…

        Engineers saw all of this. Management overrode them.

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: "oxidizer and moisture interactions"…

      I am sure the engineers did see this coming as it is an old problem in rocket science. I am certain they created a long list of handling procedures to ensure that the valves are thoroughly dried before installation do not come into contact with moisture afterwards. There is also a pre-launch check to ensure those procedures were effective.

      Somewhere there is a hole in the procedures big enough to let moisture in. I hope they find it and fix it because it would be nice if the not SpaceX option was not Роскосмос.

    3. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: "oxidizer and moisture interactions"…

      On the other hand, while I don't know specifically where Boeing produces the Starliner, of course much of their production is in the Seattle area, which wouldn't give them much more excuse for not grokking humidity (pun intended).

      Back in the day, I remember an engineer telling me to "not worry about that, it works fine here in the lab". Considering the lab and all the buildings were climate controlled, the product worked fine. Once out in the world, they had serious issues due to weather. In this case it was just small voltage regulator.

      Seems there was a movie where they developed an aircraft and no one thought about weather. They couldn't launch their airplane until it dried out after washing it.

      1. Denarius Silver badge

        Re: "oxidizer and moisture interactions"…

        are you referring to F117 or B2 where rain washed the antiradar paint off it ?

        1. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: "oxidizer and moisture interactions"…

          No... the movie was "Deal of the Century". I had to look it up as all I remembered was the washing the airplane and someone screaming about the idiots who didn't think of rain.

      2. herman Silver badge

        Re: "oxidizer and moisture interactions"…

        “ They couldn't launch their airplane until it dried out after washing it.“ - My old Dodge was like that…

    4. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

      Re: "oxidizer and moisture interactions"…

      "where Boeing produces the Starliner, of course much of their production is in the Seattle area"

      Final assembly of the Starliner is at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. These are the real experts on humidity, with an average relative humidity of 137%.

  3. Sixtiesplastictrektableware

    I'm looking at Boeing like Palm Inc. and thinking "but... you guys had the lead-- and you let some upstart walk up to you in the skuleyard and steal your lunch money?!?"

  4. John70

    Looking how far and how fast SpaceX has come and actually developed reusable rockets, NASA needs to tell Boeing to either earn their money, cut their funding or dump them altogether.

    1. iron Silver badge

      Commercial crew is not an old space cost plus contract. If Boeing don't deliver a working capsule they don't get paid.

      1. rg287 Silver badge

        Commercial crew is not an old space cost plus contract. If Boeing don't deliver a working capsule they don't get paid.

        For clarity, that's half the story AFAIK.

        They were paid to develop Starliner. They've had that money. NASA awarded two such contractors precisely in case one vendor failed, rather than picking a winner and cost-plussing as necessary until it worked.

        But as you say, NASA are not going to cost-plus Starliner until it works. They've paid Boeing to develop it. If the money runs out then Boeing either have to fix it at their own expense or junk it and accept that they are ineligible to bid on all future crew contracts because they don't have an eligible vehicle. In which case SpaceX will have a de facto monopoly on crew missions until BO or someone else comes along with a vehicle.

        They've been paid for Starliner whether or not it's ever delivered. But as you say, they won't get paid for crew missions they don't fly.

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Commercial Crew had some R&D funding but from now on Boeing have to earn their money making deliveries.

      On the other hand NASA is required by law to fund activity (not progress) on SLS unless congress says otherwise. Judging by what happened last time if the public notices what is going on congress will change the name. I propose the new name should be Constellation.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        > I propose the new name should be Constellation.

        You are unfamiliar with getting Congressional funding for quasi-defense projects

        It will be called the "Patriotic Flaming Sword of Jesus Hallelujah(*) Rocket"

        *=possibly not - it's hard to spell and sounds a bit foreign

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > I propose the new name should be Constellation.

        I think "Star Whores" has a nice ring to it.

    3. rg287 Silver badge

      Looking how far and how fast SpaceX has come and actually developed reusable rockets, NASA needs to tell Boeing to either earn their money, cut their funding or dump them altogether.

      They have. Starliner development was a fixed cost contract. If Boeing burn through the money and don't deliver a working capsule then they either walk away, or they finish it from their own pocket.

      Going forward, all the contracts will be simply "taxi service" - buying flights to the ISS. NASA won't be making any more R&D funds available. If Boeing don't have a vehicle, they won't be able to bid. Simple as.

      This was why they awarded two contracts - in case one vendor failed. This is in contrast to historic practices of picking a winner and then cost-plussing any overruns or technical problems.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        It means that any costs on Starliner, instead of being paid to Boeing on a cost-plus contract will be paid to Boeing as R&D costs of an unspecified classified contract that we can't talk about to this committee

        I'm sure all patriotic members of the committee can see the necessity of the Motherland's major aerospace company remaining profitable

      2. zuckzuckgo Bronze badge

        > Going forward, all the contracts will be simply "taxi service" - buying flights

        For that to remain economical NASA needs multiple US space taxi operators. SpaceX could adopt the Uber surge pricing model for future missions if there is insufficient competition.

  5. ecofeco Silver badge

    Boeing!

    They're not going...

    Talk about a company that has lost its way...

  6. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Lucy is actually using the Starliner Atlas V

    An RD-180 engine on the original booster failed hydraulics checks, and they swapped out the engine and it still fails, so they pulled the dual-engine Centaur and SRBs off the Starliner booster (and changed some avionics) and stacked Lucy on that.

    https://spaceflightnow.com/2021/10/07/asteroid-probe-mounted-on-atlas-booster-originally-assigned-to-astronaut-flight/

  7. WolfFan Silver badge

    ‘Oxidizer and moisture’ eh?

    That sounds like something got rusty.

    It also sounds as though senior managers don’t realize that they’re launching from Florida. Perhaps Boeing senior managers should be made to visit the Cape. And, perhaps, be fed to the local ‘gators, assuming that Boeing management won’t poison the poor things.

    Certainly the first crewed test flights should have only senior Boeing managers aboard…

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: ‘Oxidizer and moisture’ eh?

      You'd think they'd want bragging rights like Branson & Bezos.

  8. Scott Broukell

    Pro Tip - -> WD40

    <see title>

    1. IT Poser
      Mushroom

      Re: Pro Tip - -> WD40

      WD40 plus N2O4 equals <see icon>

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Pro Tip - -> WD40

        Has anyone considered a WD40+Oxygen rocket motor?

        At least it wouldn't squeak

  9. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    WTF?

    Probable?

    So they don't actually know then.

    1. Jon 37 Silver badge

      Re: Probable?

      If you're doing proper engineering, you don't say you know something for certain unless you really do know it for certain.

      If you're only 99.9% sure, it's a "probable" cause.

  10. eldel

    A customer dilemma

    I noted the issue of 'turnaround time for ULA rockets'. You mean you don't just pull one off the shelf?

    "If Sir would like a new booster please choose from the right hand side of the warehouse. Otherwise please feel free to select one of our flight proven models from the center and left aisles. Yes, of course we can have it ready for next week"

    <mumble mumble>

    "Ah, Sir would like a bigger booster. Of course Sir, which 3 of these would Sir like us to strap together?"

    <mumble mumble mumble>

    "Ah, no Sir, I'm afraid we don't stock that model. The recovery accuracy of that model is not quite adequate for our rather small barges. Apparently they can only specify which ocean they expect to hit"

    1. rg287 Silver badge

      Re: A customer dilemma

      Yes, turnaround time would seem to be the issue here. If you spend so long building something that the bits in the middle have started to corrode or age by the time you're ready to fly, then you have process problems.

      Obviously you don't want to bodge it together too quickly (and elements like chemical treatments may have curing times which impose hard limits on assembly time). But it seems like some of Boeing's problems are "If you worked a bit faster the capsule wouldn't be failing by the time it got to the pad".

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: A customer dilemma

        Could they send a secret commando unit to steal a Shuttle back from a museum ?

        Then all they have to worry about is a rather aged Roger Moore tracking them down

        1. zuckzuckgo Bronze badge

          Re: A customer dilemma

          And maybe they could duct tape it to a Falcon Heavy? I'm sure it would work in the movies.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: A customer dilemma

            You can launch it from the top of a 747 using the shuttle engines without a fuel tank - unfortunate for the 747 pilots though

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Factory

    "Engineers had a go at fixing the issue on site, but eventually decided the problem required a trip back to the factory rather than a short, sharp tap with a hammer."

    Presumably, they have a much bigger hammer they can use back at the factory.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Factory

      No, but it's a calibrated aviation -grade space-certified hammer

  12. PeterM42
    Facepalm

    If it's Boeing.....

    .....I'm not going.

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