Starliner test flight faces months-long delay

Hailing frequencies open… Forums Sci Minus Fi Human Spaceflight Starliner test flight faces months-long delay

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  • #27282
    Earl
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    Poor Starliner. Boeing can’t catch a break with this thing. [LINK]

    WASHINGTON — A test flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle will be delayed for at least several months to fix a problem with valves on the spacecraft.

    Boeing announced Aug. 13 that it will remove the Starliner spacecraft that was to launch this month on the Orbital Flight Test (OFT) 2 mission from its Atlas 5 rocket and return it to the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center for additional work.

    Boeing scrubbed an Aug. 3 launch attempt after discovering problems with what the company later said were 13 valves in the spacecraft’s propulsion system that were unexpectedly closed. After being unable to resolve the problem while the spacecraft was on the pad, Boeing and United Launch Alliance rolled the Atlas 5 back to its Vertical Integration Facility to give technicians access to the spacecraft.

    The article linked goes into the more technical reasons why the work has to be done, but suffice to say, Starliner isn’t going anywhere, and after the serious issues that cropped with the first Starliner that was launched…Boeing really comes out of this not looking great.


    #27292
    ubikuberalles
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    Boeing is still using the old methodology for building and launching rockets; same process since the 1950’s, really. With this recent delay, it shows and they need a shakeup to make them more responsive, improve their cycle times and so on. Space X has outperformed them routinely on major milestones and NASA is watching. Space X isn’t perfect with their early rockets exploding and Musk acting up but they learn quickly from their mistakes and fix them far faster than Boeing does. The culture differences between Space X and Boeing are stark and Boeing needs to change its ways in order to compete. Boeing was caught sleeping, frankly. As late as 2018 Boeing (and NASA) thought that Space X will miss its deadlines and the Boeing Starliner would finish before the Falcon X. I think that made Boeing complacent in their work on the Starliner.

    This article discusses how the different culture at Space X often clashed with NASA and why NASA thought (wrongly) that Boeing was going to win the first commercial launch of NASA astronauts.Boeing has had a long relationship with NASA and it knows NASA culture and how to work with them to have the designs meet criteria and so on. The cost, I think, is it slowed down Boeing’s ability to complete their product quickly. The article show that NASA needs to change its culture too if is going to succeed. Their interaction with Space X is forcing a cultural change within NASA, and that’s good.

    I hope the Starliner succeeds in the end, because it is a nice looking rocket with a lot of keen features. However, if Boeing doesn’t change its approach to their engineering and production, they are going to continue losing contracts to Space X. Boeing is already in a lot of hot water over its problems with the 737 MAX aircraft. I can only hope that blunder on their part (and the tragedies it cause) has caused them to make major changes on how they design and implement aircraft software and procedures. I doubt that any changes in the aircraft division will migrate to the space craft division but maybe it will play a part in a change in the whole company culture.

    • This reply was modified 3 months, 3 weeks ago by ubikuberalles.
    #27365
    Earl
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    OK, so apparently the latest Starliner launch scrub was because, despite having built spacecraft for NASA before… Boeing isn’t aware of coastal Florida’s high persistent humidity??!? Really?? [LINK]

    This is awfully embarrassing for Boeing, which despite designing the Starliner craft to be able to withstand Florida’s climate, still managed to create a craft that couldn’t deal with the humidity.

    The Starliner project itself has also garnered a rough reputation for frequent delays and issues that date back to 2019, when it failed to even reach the space station due to software glitches. NASA has even obliquely indicated faltering hope for the project — going as far as reassigning its Starliner crew to SpaceX launches.

    Part of what I deal with at my day job is large emergency standby generators – basically the “whole building” generators that are anchored to a concrete slab behind the building they’re going to power. A large volume of sales of these is in Florida and the east coast – basically, hurricane country. And customers wanting to install them out there have to have a special casing that resists the corrosion you get at the intersection of high humidity and saltwater.

    If our little company in Arkansas can take those factors into account, there’s no excuse for Boeing. That’s just unfathomable. Do the designers of their stuff ever go out in the field or are they just sitting behind a computer running CAD software all the time?


    #27368
    ubikuberalles
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    I’m getting the impression that the Boeing space division has a lot of engineers who can put designs on paper but with little field experience. The former skills are normally acquired in (but not exclusive too) engineering school. The latter can only be learned on the job from other employees. Has there been a shakeup in Boeing’s space division where older staff has been replaced with new kids straight from college? Are the more experienced staff doing a poor job of training the newer kids?

    Earl, your question about designers and engineers just sitting behind CAD software is valid. I’ve noticed that engineering in general in the past 20 years has shifted more indoors and is spending less time in the field. In the aerospace industry, field work is essential. Boeing (and other companies) need to bust heads and get their designers and engineers out there and actually work on the equipment they designed. Space X, I think, had a similar problem in their early days with rockets exploding, missed deadlines, etc. But Musk and his management team busted heads and got things working. I know Space X has a culture of doing what it takes to get it done. I read one article where Space X employees (scientists, engineers and techs) spent weeks at this remote site on an island (alternate landing site, site for satellite up-link antennae? I don’t remember) preparing for the Falcon Heavy launch (the one where they launched the Tesla Roadster). heir experience was rough but they got the job done. Overall it was great team-building and the engineers, who normally sit behind a desk, got much needed field experience. I don’t recall reading similar articles about Boeing. My fear is there is some kind of class system going on in Boeing where the designers are in their little glass houses sending their designs to the techs and operators who are making the devices. The designers have GOT to be there with the mechanics and factory workers and service techs to see their designs come to life.

    #27373
    ZLoth
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    This is why I love managing my work team. We are unique in that we tackle usability issues as well as technical issues, and that we can provide direct feedback to our engineering team.


    “All parts should go together without forcing. You must remember that the parts you are reassembling were disassembled by you. Therefore, if you can’t get them together again, there must be a reason. By all means, do not use a hammer.” —IBM Manual, 1925

    #27381
    Earl
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    Well, considering how long the shuttle stuck around… it could be that the engineering staff that Boeing gained from gobbling up North American and Rockwell International (which had already absorbed Rocketdyne) have retired. The shuttle, the previous non-private manned spacecraft made in the U.S., was 1970s technology, and with Apollo (another North American/Rockwell vehicle) retired in the 1970s, if you think about it, the shuttle was the paradigm of manned space in this country for 40 years (almost 10 years of R&D and construction, 30 years in service). The people who built Apollo and the shuttle retired during that time. ULA took up the maintenance of the shuttle, but they didn’t design and invent the thing.

    We relied on the shuttle for so long that the people who knew how to build real spacecraft left the field while it was in service, and as happened with the gap between Apollo and the shuttle, we weren’t ready to launch the replacement vehicle when its predecessor was retired. (That this keeps happening seems, to me at least, to be a vivid contrast to the days when you had Gemini and Apollo in active development while Mercury was being flown. There’s a famous photo of a Gemini launch with a full Saturn V stack on another pad in the background – which if I recall correctly was eventually used for Apollo 4 but at the time was being used to fit check the mobile launcher/tower – that illustrates this vividly.)

    Gemini + Saturn

    While I have problems with the space tourism industry and some of its implications, one of the advantages to having private industry in the game is that they’re not playing this “we’re flying the shuttle now, we won’t design its replacement until after we’re doing flying shuttles” game. They’re designing and testing the Starship (as ungainly as it is) while still paying the bills launching stuff on Falcon 9s, and people and cargo in Dragons. Sort of like how the auto industry works. Boeing’s current methodology sure as hell wouldn’t cut it in the car world…and it’s apparently not cutting it in aerospace anymore either.


    #27398
    ubikuberalles
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    Although that holds true for Boeing in manned rocket flight, what about Boeing’s experience in unmanned spaceflight? During the 2000’s Boeing was the primary manufacturer of the GPS IIF satellites which were launched by ULA’s Titan and Atlas rockets (did I mention I visited the Boeing plant in El Segundo once?). I’m sure Boeing worked on other unmanned flights as well (I’m too lazy to do an exhaustive search). At least some of those folks worked on manned flight equipment as well, one would think. The people who knew how to build manned spacecraft didn’t necessarily leave the field altogether, they just just worked on missiles and satellites.

    #27408
    Earl
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    I don’t know enough about what’s going on inside Boeing to say… just that, from a cursory glance with common sense engineering QA in mind… they need to be doing it better.


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