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Boeing and NASA are proceeding with the launch of the company’s Starliner capsule, despite a “stable” leak in the spacecraft’s propulsion system. Boeing vice president Mark Nappi stated that they have identified the causes of the leak and can manage it, assuring that it is not a safety issue. The first crewed launch of the Starliner capsule is now targeted for June 1, with backup opportunities on June 2, 5, and 6. This launch, known as the Starliner Crew Flight Test, is a crucial development test intended to carry NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station before regular missions.

Starliner’s crew debut has been delayed for years, with SpaceX’s Dragon capsule flying astronauts for NASA since 2020 under the Commercial Crew program. Boeing has incurred significant costs due to Starliner setbacks, including $1.5 billion in costs and nearly $5 billion in NASA development funds. A launch attempt on May 6 was called off due to an issue with the Atlas V rocket. The rocket, operated by United Launch Alliance, had a problematic valve that was replaced after the postponement. However, a small helium leak in the Starliner capsule was identified after the launch was called off, prompting new assessments of the capsule’s safety for the mission.

NASA Associate Administrator Ken Bowersox explained that it took time to address the helium leak issue due to its complexity. After analysis, NASA and Boeing determined that the source of the leak is a seal in one of the flanges of the spacecraft’s helium propulsion system. Despite the leak, the plan is to monitor it leading up to launch and reevaluate it after reaching the International Space Station. NASA has flown vehicles with small helium leaks before, and they expressed confidence in the reliability of the other seals on the spacecraft.

A review is scheduled for May 29 to assess the leak, with plans to roll the rocket and capsule out to the launch pad on May 30 for the June 1 attempt. Both NASA and Boeing are confident in the mission’s success despite the challenges faced. The Starliner Crew Flight Test marks a significant milestone in Boeing’s partnership with NASA and the Commercial Crew program, aiming to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station on a regular basis. With SpaceX’s Dragon capsule already flying astronauts for NASA, the completion of the Starliner mission is crucial for Boeing to demonstrate its capabilities in crewed spaceflight.

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