NASA, Boeing trace roots of Starliner’s bad timing

An artist’s conception shows Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner space taxi in orbit. (Boeing Illustration)

NASA and Boeing say they’ve learned more about the timing glitch that kept Boeing’s uncrewed CST-100 Starliner space taxi from making its planned rendezvous with the International Space Station — and they’re getting “an enormous amount of data” in advance of Sunday’s planned touchdown.

Starliner was launched early Dec. 20 on what was supposed to be the last flight test before astronauts climbed on board. About a half-hour after launch, the mission went awry when a scheduled orbital insertion burn didn’t happen.

Ground controllers scrambled to get the autonomously controlled spacecraft into a stable orbit, but in the process, so much thruster fuel was used up that the boosting maneuvers for getting to the space station had to be canceled.

NASA and Boeing decided to pursue as many of the test objectives as they could without flying to the station, and made plans for Dec. 22’s early touchdown at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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