NASA and Boeing will form a team to investigate Starliner glitch

Katie Ramirez
January 9, 2020

The test mission, meant to last about a week, lasted just two days, as Boeing chose to bring the Starliner home early to demonstrate its landing capabilities. But as part of the new Commercial Crew Program, NASA is entering into a contract with SpaceX and Boeing for design and construction.

Once the investigation team is chosen, the probe could take two months to complete, NASA said.

Boeing and SpaceX are the two companies developing the next generation of spacecraft that will carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

Boeing's Orbital Flight test launched on Friday, Dec. 20, on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. A "glitch" in the spacecraft's timer made it believe it was further in the mission than it really was, leading to wasted fuel and forcing NASA to scrub the journey and get Starliner back on Earth without landing its destination to achieve. On December 22nd, the case utilized its locally available parachutes to touch down in White Sands, New Mexico.

Although NASA and Boeing seem to have a preliminary understanding of what went wrong, the new investigation group will spend the next couple of months digging into all of the data collected throughout the mission, and they'll decide if there have been any other "contributing elements" that led to the accident.

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After the Starliner's Orbital Flight Test last December 20, NASA and Boeing are set to investigate the issues that occurred during the mission. When complete, they may prescribe configuration changes to the case, as per NASA. Boeing was able to demonstrate launch and landing, but we still haven't seen the capsule's docking abilities in action. In parallel, NASA will take several weeks to review data from the Orbital Flight Test and determine whether another uncrewed flight test will be required before putting astronauts on board. However, the space agency relies on SpaceX and Boeing to perform these missions aboard the Crew Dragon and Starliner capsules, respectively.

NASA will be looking into whether the uncrewed launch provided enough data to determine the capsule's guidance, navigation, overall performance, docking and undocking systems, and more.

NASA said it would start an investigation together with Boeing over a timer error that caused the failure of its December Orbital Flight Test. "Boeing would require NASA's endorsement to continue with a flight test with space explorers ready".

NASA said a choice on the subsequent stages for Boeing could come in the following "half a month". The dates for those next flights are still very fluid.

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