NASA: Starliner Software Sign of Systemic Problems at Boeing

Starliner OFT-1 capsule after landing at White Sands Missile Range. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Late in the evening of Dec. 21, Boeing engineers discovered a software glitch that could have caused its uncrewed Starliner capsule to become unstable or enter the Earth’s atmosphere with a damaged heat shield. The result could have been the loss of the vehicle.

Engineers transmitted new software to the capsule at 5 a.m. the next morning. Less than three hours later, Starliner landed safely at White Sands Missile Range a two-day orbital flight test.

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Boeing Update on Starliner Flight Test, Anomalies

The Orbital Flight Test Starliner being processed by technicians after return from White Sands Missile Range. (Credit: Boeing)

Boeing Starliner Program Update

We accept and appreciate the recommendations of the jointly led NASA-Boeing Independent Review Team (IRT) as well as suggestions from the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel following Starliner’s Orbital Flight Test (OFT). Their insights are invaluable to the Commercial Crew Program and we will work with NASA to comprehensively apply their recommendations.

  • Regarding the Mission Elapsed Timer anomaly, the IRT believes they found root cause and provided a number of recommendations and corrective actions.
  • The IRT also investigated a valve mapping software issue, which was diagnosed and fixed in flight. That error in the software would have resulted in an incorrect thruster separation and disposal burn. What would have resulted from that is unclear.
  • The IRT is also making significant progress on understanding the command dropouts encountered during the mission and is further investigating methods to make the Starliner communications system more robust on future missions.

We are already working on many of the recommended fixes including re-verifying flight software code.

Our next task is to build a plan that incorporates IRT recommendations, NASA’s Organizational Safety Assessment (OSA) and any other oversight NASA chooses after considering IRT findings. Once NASA approves that plan, we will be able to better estimate timelines for the completion of all tasks. It remains too soon to speculate about next flight dates.

NASA: Software Errors Almost Led to Loss of Starliner Twice

Starliner OFT-1 capsule after landing at White Sands Missile Range. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Following the anomaly that occurred during the December Boeing Starliner Orbital Fight Test (OFT), NASA and Boeing formed a joint investigation team tasked with examining the primary issues, which occurred during that test. Those issues included three specific concerns revealed during flight:

  1. An error with the Mission Elapsed Timer (MET), which incorrectly polled time from the Atlas V booster nearly 11 hours prior to launch.
  2. A software issue within the Service Module (SM) Disposal Sequence, which incorrectly translated the SM disposal sequence into the SM Integrated Propulsion Controller (IPC).
  3. An Intermittent Space-to-Ground (S/G) forward link issue, which impeded the Flight Control team’s ability to command and control the vehicle.
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NASA, Boeing to Provide Starliner Orbital Flight Test Update

Starliner OFT-1 capsule after landing at White Sands Missile Range. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA and Boeing will host a media teleconference at 3:30 p.m. EST Friday, Feb. 7, to discuss the status of the joint independent review team investigation into the primary issues detected during the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test in December as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Participants in the briefing will be:

  • NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine
  • Jim Chilton, senior vice president, Boeing Space and Launch
  • Douglas Loverroassociate administrator, NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate 
  • Kathy Lueders, program manager, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program
  • John Mulholland, vice president and program manager, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner Program

Audio of the teleconference will stream live online at: 

https://www.nasa.gov/live

NASA ASAP: Starliner Software Problem Nearly Caused Catastrophic Failure

The NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) is meeting today. Members are saying the software problems with Boeing’s Starliner orbital flight test in December were more numerous and serious than initially reported.

If you recall, a software timing error resulted in the Starliner being unable to raise its orbit sufficiently to dock with the International Space Station. The spacecraft spent two days in orbit before landing safely at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The nature of the second software bug is unclear.

NASA is trying to decide whether to require Boeing to fly the test again before placing crew on board for another flight test to the space station. Boeing has taken a $410 million charge against earnings in the event it needs to fly another mission.

GAO: Accelerating Commercial Crew Schedule Poses Risks

Credit: NASA

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s plan to move up the start of operational crew missions to the International Space Station (ISS) by Boeing and SpaceX could pose serious safety risks, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

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Starliner Teams Analyzing Orbital Flight Test Data as Preparations Continue for Next Flight

The Orbital Flight Test Starliner being processed by technicians after return from White Sands Missile Range. (Credit: Boeing)

Boeing Starliner Update

Boeing and NASA are nearing the conclusion of detailed evaluations on how each Starliner system performed during last month’s Orbital Flight Test (OFT).  This process is separate from the joint Boeing-NASA independent review team investigating the mission clock anomaly that precluded docking with the International Space Station.  The thorough data analysis, which is part of the normal post-test flight review process, covers everything observed during prelaunch rehearsals and operations as well as the flight.  Ultimately the analysis team will disposition anomalies and observations and evaluate which objectives were met and which require more work.

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Boeing Takes $410 Million Charge in Case of Additional Starliner Flight

Starliner OFT-1 capsule after landing at White Sands Missile Range. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Boeing has taken a $410 million charge against earnings in case NASA requires that it conduct an additional flight test of its Starliner spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS), the company during an earnings call on Wednesday.

In December, a Starliner flight test without a crew went awry after a software problem prevented the vehicle from docking with the station. The spacecraft landed safely in New Mexico after a two-day orbital flight.

NASA needs to decide whether they will require Boeing to fly a second flight without a crew to ISS before launching astronauts aboard the vehicle on a flight test. A source who requested anonymity told Parabolic Arc the decision could come in mid-February.

Boeing and NASA are continuing to investigate the root cause of the anomaly, officials said. A preliminary report is expected on Saturday.

Boeing is developing Starliner to transport crews to the station under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Boeing’s Phantom Express Vanishes into Thin Air

DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program seeks to build and fly the first of an entirely new class of hypersonic aircraft that would break the cycle of escalating launch costs and make possible a host of critical national security options. As the next step toward a future of routine, responsive, and low-cost space access, DARPA has awarded Phases 2 and 3 of the program to The Boeing Company. (Credit: Boeing)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A couple of years ago, a friend made the surprising predication that DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane Program (XSP) — a R&D effort designed to produce a rocket capable of being launched 10 times in 10 days — would never see any hardware built.

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Starliner Arrives Back in Florida

The Orbital Flight Test Starliner being processed by technicians after return from White Sands Missile Range. (Credit: Boeing)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (Boeing PR) — On Wednesday, January 8, the Starliner that flew the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test returned safely to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  After launching from Cape Canaveral on December 20, 2019, and landing at the White Sands Missile Range on December 22, the Starliner was recovered and prepared for shipment across the country, and then left the desert on January 3.

In general, the plan for post-flight processing of this spacecraft is as follows:

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Starliner Orbital Flight Test Cabin Camera Views

Video Caption: Take a look inside the Starliner on its Orbital Flight Test. Four interior cameras captured the mission, and this video covers nearly every dynamic event during the flight, including launch, separation events, on-orbit maneuvering, re-entry and landing.

NASA, Boeing Forming Investigation Team on Starliner Snafu

Starliner OFT-1 capsule after landing at White Sands Missile Range. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

by Jim Bridenstine
NASA Administrator

NASA and Boeing are in the process of establishing a joint, independent investigation team to examine the primary issues associated with the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test.

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Boeing: Starliner in Good Shape Following Orbital Flight Test

Starliner OFT-1 capsule after landing at White Sands Missile Range. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

WHITE SANDS, NM (Boeing PR) — Engineers and technicians are conducting closer studies of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft as they recover data from onboard systems and begin preparing the vehicle for its return to Florida, where it will be readied for a future crewed mission to the International Space Station.

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Report: NASA Needs to Improve Oversight of Contracts and Grants

NASA finished assembling the main structural components for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stage on Sept. 19. Engineers at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans fully integrated the last piece of the 212-foot-tall core stage by adding the engine section to the rest of the previously assembled structure. Boeing technicians bolted the engine section to the stage’s liquid hydrogen propellant tank. (Credit: NASA/Steven Seipel)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Between 2014 and 2017, NASA awarded Boeing a total of $64 million in performance awards for its work on the Space Launch System (SLS) despite significant schedule delays and cost overruns in the program.

It was only after the NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) questioned the propriety of the awards that SLS program officials began “providing Boeing award fees that better reflected actual performance,” the space agency’s watchdog said in a new report.

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