Boeing Starliner's return to Earth delayed again

NASA has announced that the return of the Boeing Starliner from the International Space Station to Earth, which was scheduled for next week, has been postponed again.

The postponement of the re-entry, scheduled for June 26, will allow more time to review the engine malfunctions and helium leak that caused the first postponement, AFP reports.

Starliner's first manned mission to the ISS, which was originally scheduled to last about eight days, has been extended to a date to be determined.

The spacecraft blasted off from Florida on United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket on June 5 after years of delays and safety concerns, and after two aborted launch attempts that occurred when the astronauts were strapped in and ready to fly.

"NASA and Boeing leadership are adapting the return to Earth of the Starliner Crew Flight Test spacecraft," NASA said in a blog post.

"The move from Wednesday, June 26, deconflicts Starliner's undocking and landing from a series of planned spacewalks into open space on the International Space Station, while giving mission teams time to review propulsion system data," it said.

NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager Steve Stich said, "We are taking our time and following the standard mission management team process. We are letting the data drive our decision-making related to managing the small helium system leaks and engine performance that we observed during the rendezvous and docking."

Stitch added that Starliner, whose crew consists of two astronauts, Butch Wilmore and Sunny Williams, both former U.S. Navy test pilots, "performed well in orbit while attached to the space station."

NASA said the crew was in no hurry to leave the station because it was well supplied with provisions and "the station schedule is relatively open until mid-August."

The initial docking with the ISS was delayed by more than an hour after some of the Starliner's engines, which provide fine maneuvering, initially failed to engage.

Prior to launch, there was known to be a single helium leak affecting Starliner. Although nonflammable, the helium provides pressure to the propulsion system.

However, other leaks occurred during the flight. | BGNES