Boeing to return Starliner to factory, launch delayed

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An Atlas V rocket carrying Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsule is prepared for launch to the International Space Station for a do-over test flight in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S. August 2, 2021. REUTERS/Steve Nesius/File Photo

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WASHINGTON, Aug 13 (Reuters) - Boeing Co (BA.N) will return its CST-100 Starliner to the factory to resolve a valve issue, the company said on Friday, delaying the launch date of the space capsule to the International Space Station until at least mid-October if not later.

The planemaker told NASA that it would remove the Starliner from the Atlas V rocket and send it for deeper troubleshooting of four propulsion system valves.

The CST-100 Starliner will take people to and from a low-earth orbit. Boeing is competing with Elon Musk's SpaceX to take NASA astronauts to the space station from the United States.

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"We'll continue to work the issue from the Starliner factory and have decided to stand down for this launch window to make way for other national priority missions," Boeing said in a statement.

Kathy Lueders, a NASA associate administrator, told reporters on a call Friday that "we fly when we are ready. We are committed to work with Boeing on bringing on their crew transportation system.... We're going to go fix this problem."

The relocation of the spacecraft will require Boeing, NASA and United Launch Alliance to agree on a new launch date once the valve issue is resolved, the planemaker said.

NASA and Boeing officials did not give a firm date for a launch on the call, but confirmed it would not take place before mid-October and said it could slip into 2022.

"It's probably too early to say whether it's this year, or not. I would certainly hope for as early as possible, and if we could fly this year it would be fantastic," said Boeing's John Vollmer, adding the company needs to understand the root cause of the issue.

Earlier this month, Boeing scrubbed the launch of the much awaited Starliner to the International Space Station after discovering a glitch in its propulsion system valves during pre-launch checks. read more

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Reporting by Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Shailesh Kuber

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