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NASA again pushes plans for Boeing Starliner return to Earth

Agency to review data on spaceship’s leaks, thrusters

By Richard Tribou, Orlando Sentinel
Published: June 18, 2024, 3:58pm

NASA wants more time to look at data related to problems with Boeing’s Starliner thrusters and helium leaks before letting a pair of NASA astronauts make their way back to Earth, again pushing back a planned return date from the International Space Station.

The new target departure of Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams is no earlier than June 25, extending again what was supposed to be about an eight-day visit to the ISS in the the first human spaceflight for the commercial Starliner capsule and service module.

The astronauts launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on June 5, but on the way to docking at the ISS on June 6, the capsule experienced a series of helium leaks and thruster failures on its propulsion service module.

“Teams have been very busy reviewing the data and executing the on-orbit flight test objectives for the mission,” said NASA Commercial Crew Program manager Steve Stich during a press conference Tuesday.

The plan would be to depart the ISS on June 25 at 10:10 p.m. and make the 6 1/2-hour trip home with a landing at 4:51 a.m. Wednesday, June 26, at the primary site of White Sands Space Harbor, N.M. A backup landing date would target July 2.

The completion of Starliner mission would set up what NASA and Boeing hope is full certification of the spacecraft so it can begin sharing duties with SpaceX of ferrying astronauts to and from the ISS on regular six-month missions.

But before it heads home, NASA and Boeing are taking time to look at all the issues with the service module, which has stretched the astronauts’ stay to at least 19 days before undocking.

“The service module is a component that we don’t get back,” Stich said. “After we execute the deorbit burn, it burns up in the atmosphere and so we’re taking our time to understand that service module and the things that we’ve had happen relative to the helium leaks and also the thruster fail offs at docking.”