Boeing has already identified the problems, and “our team is off fixing those problems,” Mulholland said. Aviation Week quoted him as saying in an earlier interview that the problems had to do with springs that didn’t have enough force to seal off the valves. Four of the eight valves in the four-engine system failed to close, he told Aviation Week.
The fix will involve a “potential combination of operational changes and minor design changes,” Mulholland told reporters today.
The uncrewed demonstration flight was moved to the head of the line because that test doesn’t require firing the launch abort system, which was built for Boeing by Aerojet Rocketdyne. The shift will give engineers more time to ensure that the valves, the four 40,000-pound-thrust engines and the entire system works as designed.
Once Spacecraft 1’s abort system passes its test, Spacecraft 2 can then be cleared for takeoff with spacefliers on board. The crews for Boeing’s demonstration flight, and for SpaceX’s parallel demonstration flight, are to be announced amid fanfare at NASA’s Johnson Space Center on Friday.
Friday’s announcement is expected to identify Chris Ferguson, who was the commander of NASA’s last space shuttle mission and is now Boeing’s director of crew and mission operations, as a member of the first Starliner crew. Today Mulholland paid tribute to Ferguson “and all he’s meant to this nation, and to our company, and to the development of this spacecraft.”“So we’re really looking forward to the celebration of that announcement,” Mulholland said.
It was Ferguson and his crew who left a U.S. flag behind on the space station during the last shuttle mission in 2011, to be picked up by the next space crew to be launched from U.S. soil.
In light of Boeing’s schedule adjustment, will that crew arrive on a Starliner or on SpaceX’s Dragon spaceship? SpaceX has hinted that its first crewed flight could take place by early next year, but Mulholland declined to speculate.