“星际线”飞船即将再次发射,波音却和关键供应商闹翻了

5月12日消息,波音开发的“星际线”载人飞船即将再次进行无人飞行测试。但知情人士透露,波音与飞船零部件主要供应商Aerojet Rocketdyne闹翻了。波音的CST-100“星际线”飞船定于当地时间5月19日搭乘阿特拉斯5号火箭发射升空,从美国佛罗里达州前往国际空间站。

“星际线”飞船即将再次发射,波音却和关键供应商闹翻了

飞船此行目的是向美国国家航空航天局(NASA)证明,波音飞船可以安全运送宇航员往返于国际空间站。2019年,飞船软件故障导致一次类似的无人飞行测试中断。

这项任务是波音与埃隆·马斯克(Elon Musk)麾下SpaceX展开竞争的关键一步。但据三位不愿透露姓名的人士透露,波音与推进系统供应商Aerojet的分歧使现状变得更加复杂。

去年7月份,“星际线”飞船推进系统燃料阀出现问题,波音公司叫停了原本进行中的发射计划。消息人士称,总部位于芝加哥的波音和总部位于加州埃尔塞贡多的Aerojet Rocketdyne对于问题原因存在分歧,两家公司正相互指责。

波音“星际线”飞船自启动以来一波三折,与Aerojet Rocketdyne的争端只是项目出现一系列问题的最新例证。自2019年以来,波音已经为“星际线”飞船项目花费5.95亿美元。公司与NASA签订的是固定总价合同,各种意想不到的情况导致波音在财务上几乎没有回旋余地,公司已经在自掏腰包推进飞船测试计划。

波音公司在一份声明中首次承认,公司最终打算对“星际线”飞船的燃料阀进行重新设计,防止再出现去年导致试飞推迟的问题。波音公司在声明中表示,“我们正在对阀门进行短期和长期设计变更。”

作为推进系统的一部分,燃料阀主要帮助飞船在太空中飞行,但波音在飞船发射前发现其中13个燃料阀处于关闭状态,没有任何反应,结果导致去年飞船测试出现延期。

各种技术问题使得“星际线”飞船的首次载人飞行测试目前仍是未知数,这让波音远远落后于马斯克的SpaceX。后者的载人龙飞船已经为NASA完成5次载人航天任务。

NASA希望波音公司能为运送宇航员往返国际空间站提供更多选择。今年3月份,NASA又和SpaceX签下三次载人航天任务,来弥补波音项目延误造成的需求缺口。

波音和NASA工程师团队一致认为,阀门卡住主要是因为推进剂、铝材之间的化学反应以及佛罗里达州发射场空气潮湿导致水分侵入阀门。

两名消息人士称,Aerojet Rocketdyne工程师和律师对此则有不同看法,他们指责波音在飞船地面测试中使用了一种化学清洁剂。

Aerojet Rocketdyne代表拒绝置评。

波音在声明中表示:“确定阀门问题根本原因的测试已经完成。”波音没有发现Aerojet Rocketdyne所描述的问题。

NASA负责波音和SpaceX载人航天项目的史蒂夫·斯蒂奇(Steve Stich)表示,NASA也认同波音的观点。

波音还表示,Aerojet Rocketdyne的设计并未达到合同要求,推进系统没有足够弹性来抵御化学反应引起的问题。

波音上周在即将发射前第三次将“星际线”飞船推回发射台,更换了一个新的推进系统,并通过临时修复防止水分渗入阀门。

波音和NASA表示,在为期9个月的测试中,他们没有复现飞船阀门完全卡住的故障,而是测量阀门难以打开的程度。

两名消息人士说,这种方法是为了让“星际线”飞船迅速重返发射台。

NASA、波音、Aerojet Rocketdyne和独立安全顾问将于本周开会,就阀门问题原因做出最终决定,并确定临时修复方案是否有效。

两位消息人士称,波音高管私下认为,Aerojet Rocketdyne对阀门故障的解释是为了推卸责任,避免为重新设计的阀门系统支付费用。

“这太可笑了,”一名参与波音和NASA联合调查的人士在谈到Aerojet Rocketdyne发布的声明时说。“让阀门制造商或推进系统供应商写下‘是的,是我把它搞砸了’……永远不会发生。”

在测试和软件问题导致“星际线”飞船于2019年未能与国际空间站成功对接后,NASA官员承认,他们过于信任波音,只是决定对新成立的SpaceX公司进行更多监督。

与Aerojet Rocketdyne的不快并不是波音与飞船分包商第一次出现分歧。2017年,“星际线”飞船在一次地面测试中发生事故,导致另一名分包商的总裁截肢。分包商就此事提起诉讼,双方随后达成和解。

The purpose of the spaceship's visit is to prove to NASA that Boeing spacecraft can safely transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station. In 2019, a software failure in the spacecraft led to a similar unmanned flight test interruption.

The task is a key step in Boeing's competition with Elon Musk's SpaceX. But Boeing's disagreement with Aerojet, a supplier of propulsion systems, complicates the status quo, according to three people who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In July last year, there was a problem with the fuel valve in the propulsion system of the Starline spacecraft, and Boeing halted the planned launch. Sources said Chicago-based Boeing and El Segundo, Calif.-based Aerojet Rocketdyne disagreed on the cause of the problem, and the two companies were blaming each other.

Boeing's Starline spacecraft has experienced twists and turns since its launch, and the dispute with Aerojet Rocketdyne is only the latest example of a series of problems with the project. Boeing has spent $595 million on the Starline spaceship program since 2019. The company has a fixed-price contract with NASA, and unexpected circumstances have left Boeing with little room for financial manoeuvre, and the company is already pushing the ship test program out of its own pocket.

Boeing admitted for the first time in a statement that it eventually intends to redesign the fuel valve of the Starline spacecraft to prevent a repeat of the problems that delayed the test flight last year. "We are making short-term and long-term design changes to the valve," Boeing said in a statement. "

As part of the propulsion system, fuel valves mainly help the spacecraft fly in space, but Boeing found that 13 of the fuel valves were closed before the launch and there was no response, resulting in a delay in spacecraft testing last year.

Various technical problems make the first manned flight test of the Starline spacecraft still unknown, leaving Boeing far behind Musk's SpaceX. The latter's manned dragon spacecraft has completed five manned space missions for NASA.

NASA hopes Boeing will provide more options for transporting astronauts to and from the International Space Station. In March, NASA signed three more manned space missions with SpaceX to make up for the demand gap caused by delays in Boeing's project.

A team of Boeing and NASA engineers agreed that the valve jammed mainly because of chemical reactions between propellants, aluminum and moisture at the Florida launch site.

Aerojet Rocketdyne engineers and lawyers have different views, accusing Boeing of using a chemical cleaner in the spacecraft's ground tests, two sources said.

Aerojet Rocketdyne representatives declined to comment.

"testing to determine the root cause of the valve problem has been completed," Boeing said in a statement. " Boeing did not find the problem described by Aerojet Rocketdyne.

Steve Stich, head of NASA's Boeing and SpaceX manned space programs, said NASA agreed with Boeing.

Boeing also said that Aerojet Rocketdyne's design did not meet the requirements of the contract and that the propulsion system was not flexible enough to withstand problems caused by chemical reactions.

Boeing pushed the Starline spacecraft back to the launch pad for the third time last week, replacing a new propulsion system and preventing water from seeping into the valve through temporary repairs.

Boeing and NASA said that during the nine-month test, they did not repeat the failure that the ship's valve was completely stuck, but measured the extent to which the valve was difficult to open.

Two sources said that this method is to allow the "interstellar line" spacecraft to quickly return to the launch pad.

NASA, Boeing, Aerojet Rocketdyne and independent safety consultants will meet this week to make a final decision on the cause of the valve problem and to determine whether the interim repair plan is effective.

Boeing executives privately believe that Aerojet Rocketdyne's explanation of the valve failure is to pass the buck and avoid paying for the redesigned valve system, according to two sources.

"this is ridiculous," a person involved in the Boeing-NASA joint investigation said of the statement issued by Aerojet Rocketdyne. "ask the valve manufacturer or propulsion system supplier to write 'Yes, I screwed it up'. It will never happen. "

After testing and software problems led to the failure of Starline spacecraft to successfully dock with the International Space Station in 2019, NASA officials admitted that they trusted Boeing too much and decided to exercise more oversight of the new SpaceX company.

The unhappiness with Aerojet Rocketdyne is not the first time Boeing has disagreed with the ship's subcontractor. In 2017, the Starline spacecraft had an accident during a ground test, resulting in an amputation by the president of another subcontractor. The subcontractor filed a lawsuit on the matter, and the two sides subsequently reached a settlement.

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