As a new commercial-centric era dawns for the International Space Station, Boeing is realigning its top managers for the space station program — and for the program that’s working to send Starliner capsules there and back.
Boeing isn’t due to start flying NASA crews to the International Space Station until next year, but in the meantime, astronauts can steer a computer-generated Starliner space taxi with the aid of Varjo’s virtual-reality headsets.
NASA and Boeing officials say an independent review of December’s uncrewed test flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner space taxi has identified 61 corrective actions that will need to be taken.
The program manager for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner space taxi acknowledges that more rigorous testing might have turned up the software glitch that spoiled plans to rendezvous with the International Space Station during an uncrewed test flight in December.
An interim assessment of what went wrong during December’s first uncrewed flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner space taxi has turned up so many breakdowns that NASA is ordering a comprehensive safety review of the company’s procedures.
NASA and Boeing provided a status report on the Starliner post-flight reviews today, after concerns were raised publicly this week during a meeting of the space agency’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel.
“We are 100% committed to transparency,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters during a teleconference.
This week’s revelations add to concerns about engineering shortcomings in other lines of Boeing’s business — including commercial airplanes, where a software issue and lapses in training procedures led to two catastrophic crashes and the worldwide grounding of 737 MAX jets; and military airplanes, where Boeing is having to retrofit Air Force KC-46 tankers to fix a design flaw.
Douglas Loverro, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations, alluded to those shortcomings as he discussed the decision he made with Bridenstine’s support to order a wider safety review. “There were several factors that were in my mind when I asked the boss if we could do this,” he said. “And those were obviously press reports that we’ve seen from other parts of Boeing, as well as what seemed to be characterized as these software issues.”
NASA says it’s working with Boeing to set up an independent investigation team to review last month’s less-than-perfect maiden flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner space taxi, and is considering whether another uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station will be required.
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner space taxi made a flawless automated landing in New Mexico today, marking the end of an orbital test flight that was cut short due to a glitch with the craft’s timing system.
Because of the glitch, NASA and Boeing had to forgo Starliner’s planned trip to the International Space Station. But the uncrewed transport notched a first in space history nevertheless by becoming the first crew-capable U.S. space capsule to make its return from orbit on land.
The spacecraft also got its christening from NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, who is scheduled to fly on the craft after its refurbishment.
“A little homage to other explorers and the ships that they rode on,” Williams said during a NASA webcast. “I think we’re going to call her Calypso.”
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.
Boeing’s Starliner space taxi blasted off for the first time today on an uncrewed mission to the International Space Station, but ran into a problem that precluded a space station rendezvous.
The anomaly is sure to complicate preparations for the crewed Starliner mission that’s supposed to follow up on the uncrewed test flight. But NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine wouldn’t rule out the possibility that the crewed mission could go ahead as planned without first having to do another uncrewed test.
“I think it’s too early for us to make that assessment,” Bridenstine said at a post-launch news conference.