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.

2019: A Busy Year in Suborbital Flight

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Last year was a busy one for suborbital flights as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic conducted a combined four flights of their crewed suborbital vehicles. Despite hopes to the contrary, neither company flew paying tourists on their spaceships.

There were also 26 sounding rocket launches that carried scientific experiments and technology payloads above the atmosphere. The year saw:

  • Japanese startup Interstellar Technologies conduct a successful launch of its Momo commercial sounding rocket;
  • Texas-based Exos Aerospace continue to struggle with its reusable SARGE booster; and,
  • the first suborbital launch ever achieved by college students.
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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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NASA Looks Forward to Busy 2020

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In 2020, NASA will be taking long strides toward returning astronauts to the Moon, continuing the exploration of Mars and developing new technology to make supersonic aircraft fly more quietly.

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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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Boeing Starliner Lands Successfully in New Mexico Desert

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft lands in White Sands, New Mexico, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019. (Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

WHITE SANDS, NM (NASA PR) — Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft completed the first land touchdown of a human-rated capsule in U.S. history Sunday at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico, wrapping up the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

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