30 thoughts on “Starliner Woes”

  1. I’m assuming that Boeing already has a Starliner and service module in the works on the assumption (now discredited) that this test would go swimmingly. If so, might it not make sense to instrument that capsule and service module up the wahzoo and make it the test article? That might save a lot of time. Then again, this is Boeing, so I don’t expect a test for about another year. Time to revisit the crew version of Dream Chaser.

    1. Developing a crew version of Dreamchaser would take years, so it might indeed be able to launch crew on Dreamchaser before Boeing can get OTF-2 off the pad. (vertically, that is… they’ve already shown they can do it horizontally.)

        1. They’re currently working on a cargo version of Dream Chaser. It’s designed to be carried inside of a payload fairing during launch. To develop a crew version, they’ll need to develop a launch escape system (LES). It’d be preferable if the crew version didn’t need to be enclosed in a payload fairing because jettisoning the fairing takes time (think of a pad abort). Getting rid of the payload fairing is a non-trivial exercise because you’d have a lifting body at the end of a rocket. That can make for some serious stability issues.

          1. Two crewed spacecraft already launch inside fairings. Shenzhou and Soyuz. In addition to being in use since 1966, the Soyuz LES has been used for real a number of times, including a pad abort back in the 1970s, and a recent staging point abort just a couple of years ago, with an American aboard. It clearly works just fine, so there an established design that would be easy enough to copy, and I bet the Russians would be happy to modify it for Dream Chaser and sell as many copies as Sierra needed. Bear in mind that Soyuz has to jetison the fairing post abort, then separate the Crew module from the service and orbital modules. After fairing jetison, all Dream Chaser would have to do is snap open the wings (a gas cartridge comes to mind), ignite it’s engines, and fly to a safe landing, or even ditch in the sea.

      1. A lot of the remaining work is for the launch and ascent part. It’d be much quicker to outfit Dream Chaser as an ISS lifeboat. Six seats and enough life support to get down.

    2. I can think of two things Boeing has done well with, the X-37b and the MQ-25 Stingray. But I don’t know how rough/smooth their development was. Other than those two platforms, Boeing has lots of problems.

      1. Their satellite division seems to be getting the job done. But my impression is that they’re kind of walled off from the rest of the space division.

        1. Thanks, I will read up on them tonight.

          In a company that big that are having such wildly divergent outcomes, they hopefully have the right people who can turn things around for the company. Maybe they need their own version of Elon’s 5 points, but created by the people who made successful products and not national embarrassments.

    3. Hasn’t Boeing been going downhill since their merger with McDonnell Douglas in August 1997? It sure seems that way…

  2. Rand,
    Didn’t NASA agree to a set number of Starliner flights when it awarded the contract?


    According to Reichhardt, NASA contracted for one crewed ‘experimental’ flight of at least two crew and a follow on of six taxi flights (presumably of >2) to the ISS. As of Aug. 2018 anyway. So it appears that was “baked-in” to the awarded contract. So seven times minimum. It’s already been paid for as far as Starliner is concerned I would assume. Atlas-Vs maybe not.

  3. Why is everyone so negative about this?

    Boeing set out to get Starliner off the pad this week, and then we had the scrub, and then the rollback. So, Boeing got Starliner off the pad, though just a tiny bit differently (horizontally instead of vertically). Mission accomplished.

    Seriously though… if what I’ve been reading (that more than half the valves aboard malfunctioned) is anywhere near true, yikes on several levels. That’s both a hardware and a process problem.

    1. Half the valves? WTF. I realize getting into space isn’t exactly Boeing’s 1st priority (getting money from NASA is) they could at least pretend to be interested in spaceflight.

  4. How did they get off the ground the first time? Sounds almost like somebody wired a lot of limit switches NO instead of NC. They didn’t test the valves until they were on the pad? The whole thing seems bizarre.

      1. No it isn’t.

        In the mid- and late-70s I worked in Western Europe for a couple of years. There was a American restaurant (Rick’s Cafe Americain) my co-workers and I used to frequent that was also a hangout for American bizjet pilots working for American multi-nationals. Most had military and airline backgrounds before their bizjet days.

        I remember one of them telling a story that illustrated the then-difference between Boeing and McDonnell-Douglas. It had to do with how Boeing had put one of its airliners that was badly damaged in a hijacking incident back in service in a matter of a few weeks while McD-D took most of a year to return one of their planes to service after a separate hijacking incident that resulted in a grand total of three bullet holes being poked in the thing.

  5. IIRC, the feedsystem valves on the Orion service module were also a source of significant problems. The subcontractor was trying to sell that you really couldn’t expect a giant ball-valve to actuate reliably more than N times (where N < 20). Lots of sticking and dragging liners around.

  6. And a serious problem with Orion is that *they don’t test anything*. (Yes there are tests. These tests are supposed to be a mere box-checking exercise to ratify a design that is supposed to be perfect straight out of Platonic space. It never works out that way, but then there isn’t the budget or schedule to back up and conduct a real development program, so there is tremendous pressure to “accept the technical risk” to “spare the budget and program risk”.

  7. One problem is, there’s no test article. Boeing paid for OFT-2 by reducing the number of Starliners it will build to just two. This one, and the one used for OFT-1. They can’t afford to lose one.

    I wish this will work and come soon, because it can still be upgraded to 7 seats. As it is, there’s an open slot for seat 5, meaning an increase to ISS crew for Starliner-1 – 4.

    1. > Boeing paid for OFT-2 by reducing the number of Starliners
      > it will build to just two.

      That’s incorrect. Two operational CMs was always the plan; there was no reduction at any point, whether to pay for OFT-2 or for any other reason.

      (It’s incorrect on another level because Boeing built 3 CMs. The first was used for the pad abort test and retired; Boeing does not re-certify CMs for re-use after a pad or ascent abort.)

      1. That wasn’t my recollection. The Wikipedia article says:

        “Since Boeing does not intend to build Spacecraft 4, no spare vehicle contingency exists for spacecraft issues (or loss) during NASA Commercial Crew contract.[71] Boeing only has two Starliner spacecraft, so it does not have the ability to pursue commercial space opportunities (Axiom commercial station, space tourists) during the NASA crew contract period.”

        But that doesn’t anser the question whether they ever intended to build it.

          1. Here is a provenanced news story from 2015 that clearly states Boeing intended, as of late 2015, to build three operational Starliner capsules. This is obviously why I remember hearing that it was so. If you have something that equally clearly states they *never* intended to build three operational Starliner capsules, I’d like to see it. I’m always open to new and better facts.


    1. I think the tiles will prove to be a whole lot easier to repair/replace on Mars, if need be, than some complicated transpiration system. The best part is no part, remember?

      1. I remember thinking there were more failure modes for transpiration than for tiles. I also remember mechanical attachment for Shuttle tiles was looked at early on. I don’t remember why it was dismissed.

        1. I also remember mechanical attachment for Shuttle tiles was looked at early on. I don’t remember why it was dismissed
          Maybe because of the lack of uniformity in the shape of the tiles?

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