Boeing's Starliner test flight had a 2nd critical software issue, NASA panel finds (report)
Boeing is considering another test flight for its CST-100 Starliner commercial crew spacecraft amid concerns from a NASA safety panel about its first flight.
Boeing's Starliner spacecraft launched on Dec. 20, but was unable to dock with the International Space Station as planned because it ended up in the wrong orbit. But of growing concern now are two software problems that were uncovered after the flight was complete.
A newly disclosed timer error on the Dec. 20 flight had the potential to lead to "catastrophic" failure, NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel said during a meeting at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on Thursday (Feb. 6), according to SpaceNews.
Starliner is supposed to be ready to carry humans to the International Space Station (ISS) later in 2020, along with SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft. Both vehicles have faced technical and program delays in their journey to send astronauts safely to space.
NASA's Office of the Inspector General warned late last year that these problems could lead to smaller ISS crews until the commercial crew program is ready to go. (The office said NASA could address the shortage by purchasing more seats on Russian Soyuz vehicles, or extending the typical six-month stay of astronauts — which NASA has already done twice recently with astronauts Christina Koch and Andrew Morgan.)
The timer error on Starliner was discovered by ground controllers during the flight and corrected while the spacecraft was still aloft, but panel member Paul Hill said the consequences of the error would have been grave if it had gone unnoticed.
"While this anomaly was corrected in flight, if it had gone uncorrected, it would have led to erroneous thruster firings and uncontrolled motion during [service module] separation for deorbit, with the potential for a catastrophic spacecraft failure," Hill said in the meeting.