Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft and Atlas V. Credits: ULA

ValveTech Asks NASA to Halt Boeing Starliner Launch

ValveTech urges NASA to halt Starliner launch amid safety concerns over leaking valve, emphasizing mission integrity and astronaut safety

ValveTech Inc., a provider of valves and components for aerospace and military applications, has issued an harsh warning urging NASA to suspend the upcoming Starliner launch.

In a statement sent via the Hastings Law Office, ValveTech expressed concerns regarding astronaut safety and mission integrity. This caution comes in response to significant safety concerns raised by a leaking valve in the oxygen tank of the Atlas V’s second stage.

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft and Atlas V. Credits: ULA
Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft and ULA’s Atlas V on the pad. Credits: ULA

Founded in 1986, ValveTech is a family-operated business known for its expertise in designing and manufacturing valves for demanding environments, including space missions. Their valves are currently used on the International Space Station and the James Webb Telescope, to name a few.


What happened on the first attempt

The decision to delay the launch stemmed from the discovery of a leaking regulator valve within the oxygen tank of the ULA’s Atlas V rocket. That valve began oscillating once the stage was filled with liquid oxygen, emitting a “buzzing” sound detected by launch pad personnel, raising concerns about its longevity and reliability.

During a briefing following the May 6 scrubbed launch attempt, Tory Bruno, ULA’s president and CEO, expressed concern that the vibration may have neared the valve’s 200,000-cycle lifespan. He pointed out that the valve was vibrating at 40 hertz.

NASA’s statement mentioned that although the valve vibration subsided when closed after the scrub, it recurred twice during propellant offloading.

In response to the postponement, NASA announced a new launch window for the Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission, tentatively scheduled now for May 17 at 6:16 p.m. ET.

The news conference after the first scrubbed launch attempt of NASA’s Boeing Starliner Crew Flight Test. Credits: NASA
The news conference after the first scrubbed launch attempt of NASA’s Boeing Starliner Crew Flight Test. Credits: NASA

“As a valued NASA partner and experts in valve technology, we strongly advise against proceeding with a second launch attempt given the potential for a catastrophic event on the launchpad,” said Erin Faville, President of ValveTech.

NASA must prioritize rigorous safety assessments and re-evaluate protocols to ensure the Starliner’s readiness, safeguarding the astronauts and ground personnel from potential harm,” Faville emphasized.

NASA’s subsequent statement acknowledged the need for valve replacement. “After evaluating the valve history, data signatures from the launch attempt, and assessing the risks relative to continued use, the ULA team determined the valve exceeded its qualification and mission managers agreed to remove and replace the valve,” NASA stated.

“We intentionally cleared our summer schedule to ensure ample runway for the CFT mission,” stated Dana Weigel, NASA ISS program manager, noting no conflicts for the Starliner’s docking at the ISS.


An endless story of valves

This recent valve malfunction, although unrelated to the spacecraft itself, adds to a history of prior concerns regarding the integrity of components within the Starliner spacecraft, with valves being the reason of the longest delay.

An earlier issue involving the Service Module Propulsion system, which incorporates valves from Boeing’s contractor, Aerojet Rocketdyne, raised questions about adherence to safety standards.

Legal proceedings “found Aerojet breached multiple non-disclosure agreements for improperly disclosing, retaining, or using ValveTech’s valves, designs, technology and data”, ValveTech notes in the statement.

Since the November 2023 ruling by the court, there appears to have been no alteration to this Aerojet valve. A trial witness deemed it “unqualified to the appropriate specifications” and lacking evaluation for safety protocols, the company adds.

ValveTech is a key supplier for the Starliner CST-100 spacecraft, with 14 valve components integrated into the spacecraft.

ValveTech continues to question how NASA, Boeing and Aerojet could have qualified this valve for the mission without proper supporting data or previous history or legacy information, which in its experience, goes against aerospace-industry qualification protocols established by NASA.”


Share this article:
Edoardo Giammarino

Edoardo Giammarino

Co-Founder & CEO. Drummer and Red Cross Volunteer, born in 1997. I like analog photography and videomaking. Firmly music-addicted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *