‘Joint, independent team’ will probe Boeing Starliner orbital glitch

Pablo Tucker
January 9, 2020

The Starliner from Boeing, one of the stars of the Commercial Crew program from NASA, would leave for the worldwide space station ISS, dock and then return to Earth.

The Starliner is Boeing's space capsule created to carry future astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) as a part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program.

"Once underway, the investigation is targeted to last about two months before the team delivers its final assessment", the NASA head wrote.

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner after landing in the New Mexico desert on December 22nd.

Nevertheless, when you test a spaceship that should transport human astronauts, any shortcoming is potentially serious and NASA and Boeing both want to be sure that this will not be a problem in the future. The space agency says that successfully docking the capsule with the ISS may not be required before a crewed flight takes place.

Bridenstine also announced that NASA and Boeing are forming a joint team to investigate Starliner's timing anomaly and figure out how to make sure it doesn't happen again.

After years of development, the Starliner launched this debut project on December 20th, efficiently lifting off on top of an Atlas V rocket from Florida. A bug with the capsule's internal clock stopped the Starliner from burning its engines at the right time throughout flight. In fact, NASA states that although the data from the uncrewed test is important to get NASA certification, it is not the only way to determine Starliner's full capabilities.

Though NASA and Boeing seem to have a preliminary understanding of what went wrong, the new investigation team will spend the next couple of months diving into all of the data collected during the mission, and they will determine if there were any other "contributing factors" that led to the accident. When complete, they may prescribe configuration changes to the case, as per NASA. But the space agency relies on SpaceX and Boeing to perform those missions on board the Crew Dragon and Starliner capsules respectively. The Trump administration's new deadline for a moon landing by 2024 "will be a strain on NASA's community" and could impact risk management.

In particular, the report calls for greater clarity on "the level of vehicle damage that requires investigation, the temporary issues of when mission phases begin and end, and the supervisory role of NASA in disaster investigations conducted by its providers, and when the need for external surveillance Is required". The reusable capsule ended up zooming around Earth by itself for 48 hours, then coming down for a picture-perfect landing in New Mexico's White Sands Missile Range on December 22. Although docking was planned, it may not have to be accomplished prior to the crew demonstration.

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