Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft has encountered more challenges as it remains docked outside the International Space Station (ISS). Following a turbulent docking last week where NASA astronauts were successfully delivered to the orbital lab, the spacecraft has developed five helium leaks in its service module. NASA is currently assessing the situation to determine the feasibility of returning the astronauts back to Earth.

In an update provided by NASA on Monday, it was revealed that the Starliner teams are evaluating the impact of the helium leaks on the remainder of the mission. Despite the spacecraft being docked with all manifolds closed to prevent helium loss, the leaks pose a significant concern. Earlier inspections had revealed three leaks on the spacecraft, with two additional leaks identified after its launch on June 5.

The Starliner spacecraft consists of a crew capsule and a service module, with helium being crucial for the thruster systems. Despite the leaks, NASA remains confident in Boeing and downplays the anomalies, stating that there is enough helium for a safe return trip from the ISS. The spacecraft is scheduled to undock from the station on June 18 as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

During its approach to the ISS, the Starliner faced technical difficulties with five thrusters failing, leading to a delayed docking. Engineers are also evaluating an oxidizer isolation valve in the service module to ensure proper functionality. The mission managers are working on a return plan, considering various factors such as flight rationale, fault tolerance, and operational mitigations.

The Crewed Flight Test aims to transport crew and cargo to and from the ISS under a contract with NASA. While SpaceX, NASA’s other commercial partner, has successfully launched multiple crews to the space station, Starliner’s first crewed flight may require additional fixes before regular operations can commence.

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