Nasa contractor warns against Boeing space launch due to the ‘risk of a disaster’

A supplier for Nasa urged the space agency to conduct more safety checks before the highly-anticipated first launch of its Starliner spacecraft – which is set to take off as soon as next week – “before something catastrophic happens.”

ValveTech, a contractor that supplies Nasa with valve components for the rocket that lifts the Starliner aircraft, warned against the imminent launch on May 17.

The last launch, slated for 6 May, was scrubbed two hours before takeoff due to a valve issue.

The Starliner is designed to transport people to and from the International Space Station as well as other low-Earth-orbit destinations.

“As a valued Nasa partner and as valve experts, we strongly urge them not to attempt a second launch due to the risk of a disaster occurring on the launchpad,” ValveTech president Erin Faville said in a press release.

“According to media reports, a buzzing sound indicating the leaking valve was noticed by someone walking by the Starliner minutes before launch. This sound could indicate that the valve has passed its lifecycle,” Ms Faville wrote.

She urged Nasa to “re-double safety checks and re-examine safety protocols to make sure the Starliner is safe before something catastrophic happens to the astronauts and to the people on the ground,” Ms Faville added.

This is the latest bout of bad news for Boeing, which has made repeated headlines recently over its aircraft defects.

The contractor then turned to a separate issue, brought up in a federal court November 2023 decision. A Boeing subcontractor, Aerojet Rocketdyne, was sued by a supplier, ValveTech, and a lengthy court battle ensued. That ended with the subcontractor being found in violation of a non-disclosure agreement, but did not disclose trade secrets.

An initial press release stated that the Aerojet value was “not qualified to the right specifications and not evaluated to ensure safety protocols.” Faville questioned how Nasa, Boeing and Aerojet could have qualified the value for a mission without the history.

However, ValveTech released another statement and downplayed some of the calls.

“Some media outlets have misquoted or misrepresented comments I made in a news release issued earlier this week,” Ms Faville said in the second release. “What I said was that NASA needs to re-double safety checks and re-examine safety protocols to make sure the Starliner is safe before trying to launch the Starliner again.”

“As a valued NASA partner, it would make no sense and not be in my company’s interest to end this mission,” Faville added. “It is unfortunate that some of my comments were taken out of context to imply otherwise.”

This article was amended on May 13, 2024. An earlier version of this story did not specify that the problem with the value is not on the Starliner spacecraft but the rocket that launches the aircraft. Further details about a previous lawsuit were also added, as were additional quotes to clarify Ms Faville’s request.