The CST-100 Starliner, developed by Boeing has encountered a severe problem after a test of the launch abort engines may delay further development. The launch abort engines are an essential feature; being the only barrier between lethal results should unexpected events happen. The cause of the failure has been identified according to Boeing, but it remains to be seen if the first milestone flight will be delayed due to further security testing.
The Starliner has been in development for over a decade, being sponsored as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The Starliner aims to provide transportation for American astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The engines were outsourced to the Aerojet Rocketdyne. The engines are placed in a strategic point right underneath the passenger capsule. Should a malfunction happen during takeoff or on the launchpad, the engines would separate the capsule from the spaceship, guiding them towards safety. Hot-fire tests were run by both companies in order to verify that they are working properly. During a test at NASA’ White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico an unexpected malfunction occurred. After the engines successfully started and where shut down, a propellant leak was discovered.
According to Boeing a team in cooperation with NASA and industry partners was formed in order to investigate the cause o the leak. The fault has been identified and it will soon be corrected. Accidents happen but in this case, the consequences may have been much worse in a real situation than Boeing would like to admit.
Boeing and SpaceX plan to launch their vehicles later in August, should they pass all the strict tests used by NASA in order to ensure that they are up to the standards. The deadline is under question since beside technical difficulties the Government Accountability Office has argued that the current schedule is too aggressive and a more realistic date should be around mid-2019.