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Boeing’s New Space Capsule for Astronauts Faces More Launch Delays

The Starliner will fly on United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket, the same kind of rocket needed for the Air Force's critical mission in late June, from the same pad

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FILE - One of Boeing Co's CST-100 Starliner astronaut capsules is seen at a production facility in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Jan. 15, 2019. VOA

The Starliner capsule was supposed to make its debut this month, after a series of postponements. But the first test flight is now off until August. And the second test flight, with astronauts, won’t occur until late in the year.

NASA announced the revised lineup Wednesday. At the same time, officials said the first Starliner crew will remain at the International Space Station longer than the few weeks originally anticipated. The mission length will be decided later.

SpaceX, NASA’s other commercial crew provider, successfully flew its new Dragon capsule without a crew to the International Space Station last month. The first flight with astronauts could be as early as this summer, but the schedule is under review.

Boeing said the last major milestones have been cleared and the capsule is almost finished. But scheduling conflicts with an early summer Air Force launch helped push the Starliner’s debut into August.
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FILE – The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule approaches the International Space Station, March 3, 2019. VOA

The Starliner will fly on United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket, the same kind of rocket needed for the Air Force’s critical mission in late June, from the same pad.

While the first SpaceX astronauts will visit the space station for a few weeks at most, the Starliner’s three-person crew will move into the orbiting complex for an extended period. The typical station stay is about six months.

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NASA wants to reduce its reliance on expensive Russian Soyuz capsules as soon as possible, and so the Boeing test flight will double as a taxi mission for station residents. NASA astronauts have been riding Russian rockets since the end of the space shuttle program.

SpaceX Dragons and Boeing Starliners will return human launches to Florida, following the eight-year hiatus. NASA contracted with the two companies to handle space station ferry flights, so it could focus on getting astronauts to the moon and, eventually, Mars. (VOA)

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US Regulator Identifies New Risk on Grounded Boeing 737 Max

The FAA did not elaborate on the latest setback for Boeing, which has been working to get its best-selling airplane

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FILE - An aerial photo shows Boeing 737 Max airplanes parked on the tarmac at the Boeing factory in Renton, Wash., March 21, 2019. VOA

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has identified a new risk that Boeing Co must address on its 737 Max before the grounded jet can return to service, the agency said Wednesday.

The risk was discovered during a simulator test last week and it is not yet clear if the issue can be addressed with a software upgrade or will require a more complex hardware fix, sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

The FAA did not elaborate on the latest setback for Boeing, which has been working to get its best-selling airplane back in the air following a worldwide grounding in March in the wake of two deadly crashes within five months.

The new issue means Boeing will not conduct a certification test flight until July 8 in a best-case scenario, the sources said, but one source cautioned it could face further delays beyond that. The FAA will spend at least two weeks reviewing the results before deciding whether to return the plane to service, the people said.

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The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has identified a new risk that Boeing Co must address. Pixabay

Last month, FAA representatives told members of the aviation industry that approval of the 737 Max jets could happen as early as late June.

The world’s largest planemaker has been working on the upgrade for a stall-prevention system known as MCAS since a Lion Air crash in Indonesia in October, when pilots were believed to have lost a tug of war with software that repeatedly pushed the nose down.

A second deadly crash in March in Ethiopia also involved MCAS. The two accidents killed a total of 346 people.

“On the most recent issue, the FAA’s process is designed to discover and highlight potential risks. The FAA recently found a potential risk that Boeing must mitigate,” the FAA said in the statement emailed to Reuters. “The FAA will lift the aircraft’s prohibition order when we deem it is safe to do so.”

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Intense scrutiny

Boeing said in a securities filing late Wednesday that the FAA has asked it to address through software changes a specific flight condition not covered in the company’s already-unveiled software changes.

The U.S. planemaker also said it agreed with the FAA’s decision and request, and was working on a fix to address the problem.

“Boeing will not offer the 737 MAX for certification by the FAA until we have satisfied all requirements for certification of the MAX and its safe return to service,” Boeing wrote in the filing.

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The risk was discovered during a simulator test last week and it is not yet clear if the issue can be addressed. Pixabay

Boeing’s aircraft are being subjected to intense scrutiny and testing designed to catch flaws even after a years-long certification process.

Two people briefed on the matter told Reuters that an FAA test pilot during a simulator test last week was running scenarios seeking to intentionally activate the MCAS stall-prevention system. During one activation it took an extended period to recover the stabilizer trim system that is used to control the aircraft, the people said.

It was not clear if the situation that resulted in an uncommanded dive can be addressed with a software update or if it is a microprocessor issue that will require a hardware replacement.

New delays

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In a separate statement, Boeing said addressing the new problem would remove a potential source of uncommanded movement by the plane’s stabilizer.

A hardware fix could add new delays to the plane’s return to service.

The FAA also said on Wednesday that it continues “to evaluate Boeing’s software modification to the MCAS and we are still developing necessary training requirements. We also are responding to recommendations received from the Technical Advisory Board. The TAB is an independent review panel we have asked to review our work regarding 737 Max return to service.”

American Airlines Group Inc and Southwest Airlines Co earlier canceled flights through early September as a result of the grounding. On Wednesday, United Airlines said it also was removing Max flights from its schedule through Sept. 3. (VOA)