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Różne artykuły o CST-100 Starliner
« dnia: Listopad 04, 2019, 23:50 »
Tytuł zmieniony z [AS] Starliner Clears Pad Abort Test as ULA Rolls Out Rocket for Dec 17 Orbital

Boeing Folds SLS, CST-100 Space Capsule into New Division
Jeff Foust February 18, 2015 [SN]

Boeing's commercial crew capsule CST-100. Credit: Boeing

WASHINGTON — Boeing Defense, Space and Security announced Feb. 11 that it is consolidating several of its aerospace development programs, including the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket and CST-100 commercial crew vehicle, into a new organization intended to improve management of those efforts.

Curtiss-Wright To Complete CST-100 Avionics System
Warren Ferster April 8, 2015 [SN]
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CST-100 cockpit
Boeing's Chris Ferguson inside a CST-100 cockpit simulator. Credit: NASA/Bill Stafford
WASHINGTON — Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions will finish developing and deliver a key flight data handling system for Boeing’s CST-100 commercial astronaut taxi under a contract modification announced by the Ashburn, Virginia, company March 31.

Starliner Clears Pad Abort Test as ULA Rolls Out Rocket for Dec 17 Orbital Flight Test
By Mike Killian, on November 4th, 2019

This morning, Boeing conducted the first major flight test of their new CST-100 Starliner crew capsule, flying off a launch stand at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico for a pad abort test to demonstrate and prove it can safely escape an exploding rocket to save its crew.


Część do skasowania:

It was their first flight test under a $4.2 billion contract for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, and will provide Boeing and NASA with loads of data to help evaluate and verify the performance of Starliner’s abort system, before NASA will certify it and board astronauts for missions to and from the International Space Station beginning next year.[/size]

Watch Starliner conduct its pad abort test, a major milestone on the path to earning certification from NASA to begin launching astronauts next year.

For the test, Starliner’s four launch abort engines (LAE) ignited with a combined 160,000 pounds of thrust to send the vehicle and its test dummy rider skyward. Five seconds later the abort engines shut off as planned, as control thrusters took over steering for the next five seconds, as Starliner pitched around and rotated into position for landing as it neared its peak altitude of 4,500 feet.

However, as the landing sequence played out only two of three main parachutes deployed. And while that may seem like cause for concern to armchair expert enthusiasts and the general public, it isn’t, because the system was designed to land fine fine under two parachutes anyway.

Only two of three parachutes deployed in Boeing’s Pad Abort Test of its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft over the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The system is designed to land just fine in the event of losing a parachute, and both NASA and Boeing consider the test a success, paving the way to an uncrewed Orbital Flight Test as soon as Dec 17 from Cape Canaveral. Photo: NASA / Boeing

“We did have a deployment anomaly, not a parachute failure,” explained Boeing after the flight test. “It’s too early to determine why all three main parachutes did not deploy, however, having two of three deploy successfully is acceptable for the test parameters and crew safety. At this time we don’t expect any impact to our scheduled Dec. 17 Orbital Flight Test. Going forward we will do everything needed to ensure safe orbital flights with crew.”

“Two opening successfully is acceptable for the test perimeters and crew safety,” says NASA. It was the first time the full sequence was demonstrated as on-flight hardware.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner landed gently under two parachutes and airbags in the New Mexico desert in the company’s Pad Abort Test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program on Nov 4, 2019. Photo: NASA / Boeing

“Tests like this one are crucial to help us make sure the systems are as safe as possible,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager. “We are thrilled with the preliminary results, and now we have the job of really digging into the data and analyzing whether everything worked as we expected.”

“Emergency scenario testing is very complex, and today our team validated that the spacecraft will keep our crew safe in the unlikely event of an abort,” said John Mulholland, Vice President and Program Manager, Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program. “Our teams across the program have made remarkable progress to get us to this point, and we are fully focused on the next challenge—Starliner’s uncrewed flight to demonstrate Boeing’s capability to safely fly crew to and from the space station.”

ULA hoisting the Atlas V rocket upright at their Vertical Integration Facility at Launch Complex 41, kicking off the launch campaign for Boeing’s uncrewed Starliner Orbital Flight Test as soon as Dec 17. Photo: ULA

Meanwhile, 2000 miles away in Florida United Launch Alliance (ULA) is busy getting Starliner’s first rocket ride to space ready for that Dec 17 target launch. Overnight, the Atlas V rocket was moved from a holding bay at ULA’s Atlas Spaceflight Operation Center (ASOC) and hauled horizontally by semi-truck nearly four miles to Launch Complex 41’s Vertical Integration Facility (VIF). Two cranes grappled both ends of the 107-foot-long rocket, lifting and rotating it upright, then hoisting it into the 30-story-tall assembly building and placed on its Mobile Launch Platform (MLP).

With the booster now at its launch site, ULA teams will now attach two solid rocket boosters to the rocket (brought in 1 by 1), before hoisting the Centaur upper stage to attach atop the rocket.

The Orbital Flight Test Starliner getting ready for propellant loading ahead of rollout to the Atlas-V launch site for its upcoming Orbital Flight Test. Photo: Boeing

At the same time, the Starliner for December’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test is undergoing propellant loading, and will be transported to the VIF at LC-41 to meet its rocket in the next couple weeks.

Following that, ULA will roll out the fully-assembled, 172-foot-tall rocket with Starliner to the nearby launch pad to conduct an Integrated Day-of-Launch Test (IDOLT), also known as a Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR), where launch teams fuel the rocket stages and go through the launch countdown same as launch day, without actually igniting the engines.
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Różne artykuły o CST-100 Starliner
« Odpowiedź #1 dnia: Listopad 04, 2019, 23:51 »
Boeing performs Starliner pad abort test
by Jeff Foust — November 4, 2019 Updated 11:40 a.m. Eastern with Boeing statement.

A Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft lifts off from a pad at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, in a test of the spacecraft's abort system. Credit: NASA TV

WASHINGTON — NASA and Boeing said a pad abort test of the CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle Nov. 4 was a success despite the failure of one of the capsule’s three parachutes to properly deploy.

The Starliner lifted off from a test stand at Launch Complex 32 at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico at approximately 9:15 a.m. Eastern time. The spacecraft’s launch abort engines fired for five seconds, and a separate set of orbital maneuvering thrusters for 10 seconds, accelerating the spacecraft to more than 1,000 kilometers per hour to simulate escaping a malfunctioning rocket on the launch pad.


Część do skasowania:

The capsule soared to a planned peak altitude of about 1,350 meters before jettisoning its service module and heat shield, then deploying its parachutes. The capsule, cushioned by airbags, landed about 90 seconds after liftoff.

“The initial indication here is that we’ve had a successful test,” Boeing spokesperson Jessica Landa said during a NASA TV broadcast of the test.

“We are thrilled with the preliminary results, and now we have the job of really digging into the data and analyzing whether everything worked as we expected,” Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s commercial crew program, said in a statement about the test.

However, NASA and Boeing acknowledged one glitch with the test: only two of the three main parachutes deployed as the capsule descended. The third parachute may have been torn off, or not deployed at all, based on shaky video of the test.

NASA and Boeing said Starliner is designed to land safely if one main chute malfunctions. “We saw two out of three parachutes, and that is a stable condition,” NASA spokesperson Dan Huot said during the broadcast. The agency confirmed in a later statement that “two [parachutes] opening successfully is acceptable for the test parameters and crew safety.”

The pad abort test was a major milestone in development of Starliner. The next is an uncrewed orbital flight, called the Orbital Flight Test, where a Starliner will launch on an Atlas 5 to the International Space Station. That launch is scheduled for Dec. 17, although an investigation into the failed parachute could delay that mission.

“We did have a deployment anomaly, not a parachute failure,” Boeing said in a post-launch statement. “It’s too early to determine why all three main parachutes did not deploy, however, having two of three deploy successfully is acceptable for the test parameters and crew safety.” The company added that, at the present time, it doesn’t expect the issue to delay the Orbital Flight Test.

A crewed flight test, carrying NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, will follow some time in 2020. The three attended the pad abort test and were satisfied with what they saw. “It worked pretty much the way I had always envisioned,” Ferguson said shortly after the test.

“We hope we never need to use this system, but in case we ever have any trouble aboard the beautiful Atlas 5 on the launch pad, we know after today’s test that we’ll be able to get off safely,” said Fincke.

SpaceX, which conducted a pad abort test of its Crew Dragon spacecraft in May 2015, is preparing for an in-flight abort test in December. On that test, a Crew Dragon spacecraft will fire its SuperDraco thrusters to escape a Falcon 9 nearly 90 seconds after liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center, around the time of maximum dynamic pressure on the spacecraft. SpaceX is scheduled to perform a static fire of those thrusters as soon as Nov. 6 in preparation for that flight.

Boeing will not perform its own in-flight abort test, concluding that data from the pad abort, along with modeling of flight conditions, will be sufficient, an approach NASA approved.[/size]
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Missing pin blamed for Boeing pad abort parachute anomaly
by Jeff Foust — November 7, 2019 [SN]

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner descends under two parachutes near the end of its pad abort test Nov. 4. The company said a misplaced pin kept the third parachute from properly deploying. Credit: Boeing

WASHINGTON — Boeing said Nov. 7 that a misplaced pin prevented a parachute from deploying during a pad abort test of its CST-100 Starliner vehicle three days earlier, the only flaw in a key test of that commercial crew vehicle.

In a call with reporters, John Mulholland, vice president and program manager for commercial crew at Boeing, said an investigation after the Nov. 4 test at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico led the company to conclude that a “lack of secure connection” between a pilot parachute and the main parachute prevented that main parachute, one of three, from deploying.

The pilot parachute is designed to deploy first, and pull out the main parachute. However, Mulholland said that hardware inspections and photographs taken during “closeout” of the vehicle prior to the test showed that a pin that links the pilot and main parachutes was not inserted properly.

“It’s very difficult, when you’re connecting that, to verify visually that it’s secured properly,” he said, in part because that portion of the parachute system is enclosed in a “protective sheath” intended to limit abrasion but which also makes it difficult to visually confirm the pin is in place. “In this particular case that pin wasn’t through the loop, but it wasn’t discovered in initial visual inspections because of that protective sheath.”

Mulholland said Boeing is modifying assembly procedures through what he called “fairly easy steps,” such as pull tests, to ensure those pins are properly installed. Technicians have already confirmed that the same parachute linkages are properly installed on the three parachutes on the Starliner that will launch in December on an orbital flight test to the International Space Station.

“As normal, when we identify a sensitivity in one area, we expand it out to other areas that could have the same potential issue,” he added, for a total of 18 linkages throughout the parachute system. All but three have been checked and confirmed as of the briefing, he said.

NASA’s commercial crew program manager said the incident didn’t raise any specific quality control issues with Boeing. “This is just another place where we’ll be working with Boeing going forward and put together joint action plans for us to address any concerns,” said Kathy Lueders. “It’s part of our normal process to work through this.”

The test, Mulholland said, also provided an unplanned, but successful, verification of the ability of Starliner to safely land under two parachutes, something that had been tested during earlier qualification of the parachute system. “It’s a demonstration and understanding of the robustness of our design,” he said.

The parachute issue was the only problem found with the pad abort test so far. Initial analysis of the data from the brief test showed that key elements of the system, including the abort motors and separation of the service module and heat shield, were as expected.

“The spacecraft performance and test team performance was outstanding,” he said. “The vehicle trajectory it flew was right on top of pre-test predictions.”

Mulholland said technicians planned to continue analysis of the test using data from flight recorders on the spacecraft recovered after the test, as well as an anthropomorphic test dummy inside the capsule. “We’ll spend a week and a half and pour through” that data, he said. “Nothing abnormal is expected based on the data review of the downlinked data we’ve seen so far.”

Nothing in that review, they said, suggested cause for delaying the Orbital Flight Test of Starliner, scheduled for launch no earlier than Dec. 17 from Cape Canaveral. United Launch Alliance started the stacking process earlier in the week for the Atlas 5 that will launch that spacecraft on an uncrewed test flight to the ISS.


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Starliner anomaly to prevent ISS docking
by Jeff Foust — December 20, 2019 [SN]

NASA has ruled out sending Starliner to the International Space Station after a timer problem caused the spacecraft to expend too much propellant shortly after reaching space. Credit: Boeing

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner will not dock with the International Space Station after suffering a problem that caused the spacecraft to use too much propellant when entering orbit.

At a briefing here three hours after Starliner lifted off on an uncrewed test flight Dec. 20 called the Orbital Flight Test (OFT), NASA and Boeing officials said a problem with a timer on the spacecraft that tracks what’s known as Mission Elapsed Time meant that the spacecraft’s internal time was off, disrupting an orbital insertion burn 31 minutes after liftoff to place the spacecraft into orbit.

“It appears as though the mission elapsed timing system had an error, and that anomaly resulted in the vehicle believing that the time was different than it actually was,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said.

That caused reaction control thrusters on the spacecraft to fire to maintain a precise alignment at the wrong time, using up propellant. “When that prop got burnt, it looked like we weren’t going to be able to go ahead and rendezvous with the International Space Station,” Bridenstine said. He confirmed later in the briefing that a Starliner docking with the ISS had been ruled out.

Flight controllers recognized that the problem was taking place and tried to send commands to take over the spacecraft, said Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing Space and Launch. The problem, though, may have been exacerbated by a handover from one Tracking and Data Relay Satellite to another, creating a gap in communications around the time controllers were trying to correct the problem.

Controllers were able to later execute an orbital insertion burn and put the spacecraft into a stable orbit. The spacecraft was, at the time of the briefing, in an orbit of 216 by 186 kilometers. Steve Stich, deputy manager of the commercial crew program, said two additional maneuvers are scheduled for later Dec. 20 to refine that orbit.

That orbit will allow Starliner to perform a landing at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico Dec. 22, about 48 hours after launch. NASA and Boeing officials said they were still studying the state of the spacecraft and determining what test objectives they could carry out before deciding whether to land on Dec. 22 or stay in orbit for a longer mission.

The root cause of the timer problem is not yet known. “We don’t know if it started that way, or if some event caused it to be that way,” Chilton said, adding his team’s “most important job” is to diagnose the problem and to make sure it won’t reoccur in other phases of the mission, such as reentry and landing.

The problem doesn’t appear to be linked to the launch of the spacecraft itself. Tory Bruno, president and chief executive of United Launch Alliance, said they had a “nominal flight” of the Atlas 5 that launched Starliner, including the first use of a dual-engine Centaur upper stage on that rocket. “We achieve those separation parameters and, in fact, literally hit a bullseye,” at the time of spacecraft separation.

Bridenstine declined to speculate whether Boeing would need to fly another uncrewed test flight, this time docking with the ISS, before flying crew. “I think it’s too early to make that assessment,” he said, citing the lack of knowledge on the root cause of the timer problem. Neither Chilton nor Stich said they immediately knew what fraction of the OFT mission objectives won’t be achieved.

However, Bridenstine would not rule out going directly to a crewed flight after this mission despite the problems encountered. “That’s something we’ve got to look at,” he said.

It’s possible, he and others added, that had astronauts been on board the spacecraft, they could have been able to take manual control when the problem arose and preserved the opportunity to dock with the station. “In some cases, having a crew on board gives you some better, different, enhanced capability to responding to some failures,” said Stich.

The two NASA astronauts currently training for that Starliner crewed test flight agreed. “Starliner has a robust manual capability,” said Mike Fincke. “We like to think that, had we been on board, we could have given the flight control team more options on what to do in this situation.”

“Had we been on board, there could have been actions that we could have taken,” said Nicole Mann. “We are looking forward to flying on Starliner. We don’t have any safety concerns.”

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Boeing crew capsule falters after launch from Cape Canaveral
December 20, 2019 Stephen Clark [SFN]

United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket lifts off at 6:36 a.m. EST (1136 GMT) Friday with Boeing’s Starliner capsule. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now

Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule flew into the wrong orbit soon after lifting off from Cape Canaveral on an unpiloted demonstration flight Friday morning, burning too much fuel and precluding the new commercial spaceship from docking with the International Space Station.

Mission managers say the capsule will target an early landing in New Mexico Sunday, bringing Boeing’s Starliner Orbital Flight Test to a premature conclusion.

The human-rated space taxi, developed through a multibillion-dollar contract with NASA, was supposed to link up with the space station Saturday on a shakedown mission before U.S. astronauts are cleared to fly on the next Starliner mission in 2020.

But the Starliner could not complete an automated orbit insertion maneuver a half-hour after launch from Cape Canaveral due to a timing error on the spacecraft, NASA and Boeing officials said. A brief interruption in communication with the capsule through NASA’s network of tracking and data relay satellites derailed an attempt by mission control to override Starliner’s autopilot and command the burn from the ground.

The ship’s failure to dock with the space station will leave some of the mission’s critical objectives unaccomplished, dealing a setback to NASA’s goal to resume launching astronauts from U.S. soil for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.

“We did have obviously some challenges today,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a post-launch press conference at the Kennedy Space Center. “When the spacecraft separated from the launch vehicle, we did not get the orbital insertion burn that we were hoping for.”

The Starliner later performed a maneuver to reach a stable, but unplanned orbit that will allow the capsule to safely circle the Earth until the ship’s next available landing opportunity Sunday at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico.

After some initial consideration of keeping the Starliner in orbit beyond Sunday to perform additional tests, officials decided Friday afternoon to proceed with the landing Sunday at White Sands, according to Bridenstine.

Two launch opportunities are possible Sunday in New Mexican desert, one at around 8 a.m. EST (6 a.m. MST; 1300 GMT), and another at 3:50 p.m. EST (1:50 p.m. MST; 2050 GMT). As of mid-afternoon Friday, officials had not decided which landing opportunity to choose.

The Starliner timer malfunction occurred within the first hour of a planned eight-day mission, minutes after an otherwise successful launch aboard an Atlas 5 rocket.

NASA has contracts with Boeing and SpaceX to transport crews between Earth and the space station. Since 2011, the U.S. space agency has purchased seats from Russia for astronauts to travel to the space station, spending more than $80 million per round-trip ticket in recent agreements with Russia’s space agency.

New commercial crew ships developed by Boeing and SpaceX are intended to end U.S. reliance on Russian Soyuz capsules for human transportation to the station. NASA signed contracts with Boeing and SpaceX in 2014 — valued at $4.2 billion and $2.6 billion, respectively — to begin flying crews into space before the end of 2017.

That schedule has been delayed more than two years. SpaceX accomplished a successful Crew Dragon test flight to the station in March, but the capsule was destroyed in an explosion during a ground test of its abort engines in April.

After introducing a fix to the cause the explosion, SpaceX is gearing up for a high-altitude launch abort test in January, and says it can be ready to fly astronauts to station soon after that.

Bridenstine said Friday it was too early to know whether the Starliner malfunction — and its inability to reach the space station — will affect NASA’s plans to fly astronauts on the next Starliner mission.

“I think it’s too early to make that assessment,” Bridenstine said.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine addresses reporters Friday at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now

John Mulholland, Boeing’s Starliner program manager, identified the rendezvous with the International Space Station and the verification of the Starliner’s docking system performance among the Orbital Flight Test mission objectives during a pre-launch press conference Tuesday.

But Steve Stich, deputy manager of NASA’s commercial crew program, said Friday a successful docking on the unpiloted test flight is not a prerequisite for proceeding with a crewed mission.

“Both Boeing and SpaceX proposed a mission to do an uncrewed test flight that demonstrated a docking,” Stich said. “I would not say that it’s a requirement. It’s something that is nice to have, but I wouldn’t say it’s a requirement for crewed flight.”

“We still will get to do a deorbit and entry and check out those critical pieces of the mission,” Stich said. “If you think about the critical parts of the mission for the crew, it’s launch and landing. So we’ll collect that data and we’ll understand the root cause of this problem, and then we’ll have to go see what’s the next step relative to the next mission.”

The Starliner spacecraft, with an instrumented test dummy nicknamed “Rosie” strapped in the cockpit, lifted off at 6:36:43 a.m. EST (1136:43 GMT) Friday on top of a modified United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.

Upgrades to the Atlas 5, such as a dual-engine Centaur upper stage and an added aerodynamic skirt for improved stability, appeared to function as designed as the 172-foot-tall (52.4-meter) launcher arced northeast from Cape Canaveral in a spectacular dawn ascent to deliver the Starliner spacecraft on a trajectory toward the space station.

The Atlas aimed to deploy the Starliner spacecraft just shy of the velocity required to enter a stable orbit. And the rocket’s Centaur upper stage did just that, delivering the capsule on the proper suborbital trajectory and releasing Starliner to fly on its own roughly 15 minutes after liftoff.

Engineers designed the unusual Atlas 5 launch profile to limit g-forces on future Starliner astronaut crews during an abort in the event of a rocket failure.

Artist’s illustration of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft in orbit. Credit: Boeing

A 40-second burn by four of the Starliner’s orbital maneuvering and attitude control engines was planned around 31 minutes into the mission. The maneuver was programmed to raise the low point, or perigee, of the Starliner’s orbit above the atmosphere, preventing the capsule from plunging back to Earth before completing a single 90-minute lap around the planet.

But a mission clock on-board the spacecraft apparently had a wrong setting, leading the ship to mistakenly believe it was operating in a different phase of its mission.

“Once the vehicle thought it was at a different time in the mission — being autonomous, a lot of this runs on a timer — it began to do burns and attitude control,” said Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing’s space and launch division.

According to Bridenstine, the spacecraft consumed more propellant than anticipated as it errantly fired its control thrusters. A joint team of NASA and Boeing flight controllers in Houston noticed the problem and tried to intervene, but the Starliner did not receive their manual commands to perform the orbit insertion burn in time.

“By the time we were able to get signals up to actually command it to do the orbital insertion burn, it was a bit too late,” Bridenstine said.

Mission managers said a brief break in the satellite communication link between mission control and the Starliner spacecraft appeared to have prevented the ground commands from reaching the capsule.

In the end, Chilton said flight controllers commanded the spacecraft to maneuver into an unplanned orbit to preserve the opportunity to land the capsule as soon as Sunday morning at Boeing’s primary landing site at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico.

“The orbit we’re in today, the reason we picked it and put it there, is that allows us to return to White Sands in 48 hours,” Chilton said. “Without knowing exactly what was going on, the team quite rightly said, ‘Let me put the spacecraft in an orbit that I know I can control and get home, and give the engineering team time to thoroughly figure out whats going on.'”

Chilton said ground teams have stabilized the spacecraft after the misguided orbit insertion maneuver.

“The flight control team put the spacecraft in a safe orbit,” he said. “We’re flying tail to the sun, making sure we maximize charging (through the solar panels). All systems are good.”

The mission timer has reset, so engineers do not expect any additional problems stemming from the clock system malfunction.

Flight controllers were expected to assess later Friday what they can do to salvage some of the Starliner’s mission objectives. A pair of orbit-raising burns were planned Friday afternoon to better align for a landing opportunity at White Sands Sunday.

“We’re doing a propellant inventory management,” Chilton said. “It appears we have about 75 percent of the flight test propellant available, and the team will go figure out what subset of our overall test objectives can be achieved with the propellant remaining, while preserving a safe return to White Sands.”

In addition to the deorbit, re-entry and landing, mission planners will perform some propulsive demonstrations in orbit to exercise the spacecraft’s thrusters. Chilton said Boeing teams could test the spacecraft’s “far field,” or long distance, navigation capability and conduct checkouts of the Starliner’s optical rendezvous sensors.

There was also a chance the Starliner crew capsule could approach the vicinity of the space station for testing, officials said Friday. But that idea was apparently scrapped Friday as managers elected to proceed with a landing in New Mexico Sunday.

Artist’s illustration of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft descending to landing with its airbags inflated. Credit: Boeing

“We learned a lot today about the vehicle and the spacecraft,” Stich said. “This vehicle was set up to fly today the exact trajectory we’ll fly with crew on-board.”

Bridenstine suggested that if astronauts were flying on the Starliner capsule, they could have responded and taken manual control to perform the orbit insertion burn.

Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, a former NASA space shuttle commander, will be joined by NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann on the first Starliner mission with humans on-board. Fincke and Mann joined Bridenstine and other top space officials for a press conference after Friday’s launch.

“This anomaly has to do with automation,” Bridenstine said. “Nicole and Mike are trained specifically to deal with the situation that happened today, where the automation wasn’t working according to plan. If we had crew in there, No. 1, they would have been safe … And, in fact, had they been there, we may be docking with the International Space Station tomorrow.”

“We train extensively for this type of contingency, and had we been on-board, there could have been actions that we could have taken,” said Mann, a Marine Corps fighter pilot-turned-astronaut.

Stich, a former NASA space shuttle flight director, said engineers will analyze what went wrong between the time the Starliner spacecraft separated from the Atlas 5 rocket and the programmed time of the orbital insertion burn less than 20 minutes later.

“In that critical timeframe, clearly we missed something with this timer,” Stich said. “We didn’t see it in any of the simulations … It’s in this timeframe, where the automation hands over from the launch vehicle to the spacecraft, that clearly the timer mixed up. So we’ll have to go figure out what happened, and then go solve the problem.”

Officials were not sure Friday whether the timing issue was caused by an inherent problem on the spacecraft, such as a design flaw, or something that happened on the capsule in flight.

This frame from an animation of the Atlas 5’s launch profile with the Starliner spacecraft shows a rendering of the crew capsule separating from the Centaur upper stage. Credit: United Launch Alliance

Stich said engineers will also verify the timing issue, while resolved for now, will not crop up again during the crucial return phase of Starliner’s mission.

“The spacecraft has recovered well, and is doing well,” he said. “So we’ll work this over the next couple of days. When we look ahead, we’ll work with the Boeing team to make sure we’re safe for entry.

“We understand we had a problem with this timing with this very important insertion maneuver,” Stich said. “We’ll have to look forward and look at the deorbit burn and entry just to make sure there’s no hidden problems there. So we’ll look at the software and do some runs in the simulator … to make sure that’s all safe.”

The Starliner spacecraft is designed to return to a touchdown on land, unlike previous U.S. crew capsules, which landed at sea. Parachutes and airbags will help cushion the craft’s landing.

The Starliner setback is another black mark on a troubled year for Boeing. The company’s 737 MAX passenger jet has been grounded worldwide since March after two fatal crashes in five months, both blamed on faulty software in the plane’s flight control system.

Chilton, a veteran engineer and Boeing program manager, said the Starliner team is disappointed in the outcome of Friday’s mission.

“These are passionate people who are committing a big chunk of their lives to put Americans back in space from our soil, so it’s disappointing for us,” Chilton said. “But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to diagnose it, figure out what’s the right thing to do going forward — what kind of next flight test we fly — and keep going.”


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Starliner lands in New Mexico
by Jeff Foust — December 22, 2019 [SN]
Updated 12:15 p.m. Eastern with comments from post-landing press conference.

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner, descending under parachutes, releases its base heat shield shortly before landing at White Sands, New Mexico. Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

WASHINGTON — Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft landed safely in New Mexico in the early morning hours Dec. 22, wrapping up an uncrewed test flight cut short by a timer glitch.

Starliner landed at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico at 7:58 a.m. Eastern, 35 minutes after performing a deorbit burn using its thrusters. The spacecraft “hit the bullseye” at the landing site, Boeing and NASA reported on a NASA TV broadcast of the landing.

The spacecraft’s reentry and landing appeared to go as planned, including the deployment of the spacecraft’s drogue and main parachutes. During a pad abort test at White Sands in November, one of three main parachutes failed to deploy because it was not properly rigged, but Boeing said they had identified the problem and ensured that the parachute on this spacecraft was properly set up.

“The landing looked exactly like we had in the simulations,” Boeing engineer Jim May said during the NASA TV broadcast. “A nice, soft landing.”

The landing brought an early end to a mission that had been scheduled to last more than a week. Original plans called for the Starliner to dock with the International Space Station Dec. 21 and remain there until shortly after midnight Eastern Dec. 28, undocking and landing at White Sands several hours later.

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner after a successful landing at White Sands, New Mexico. Credit: NASA

Those plans changed, though, when the spacecraft encountered a problem with its mission elapsed timer shortly after it separated from the Centaur upper stage of the Atlas 5 that launched it. The timer was not properly set, causing it to fire its attitude control thrusters at the wrong time and consuming too much propellant to permit an approach to the station.

Despite the lack of an ISS approach and docking, NASA and Boeing officials played up the mission’s other accomplishments in a briefing two hours after the landing. “A lot of things went right,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said. With the successful landing, “a whole lot more things did go right, went very, very well.”

“Return is something you can’t really test. You’ve got to put your heat shield on go through the heat regime,” Jim Chilton, senior vice president for Boeing’s space and launch division, said at that briefing. “Today, it couldn’t really have gone any better.”

He emphasized the on-target landing at White Sands and the good condition of the spacecraft after touchdown. “From an overall perspective, we are just as pleased as we could be with the design.”

Chilton estimated that the mission has achieved in the “low 60%” of overall flight test objectives so far based on available data. Once all the data from the spacecraft is retrieved and analyzed, he said that success rate could reach 85–90%.

Questions, though, continue to swirl about the problem with the mission elapsed timer. Chilton said in a Dec. 21 that Starliner initializes that timer prior to launch using data from the Atlas 5, but that the spacecraft apparently “reached in and grabbed the wrong coefficient” prior to launch. He said in the Dec. 22 briefing that the timer was off by 11 hours.

Boeing and NASA tried to downplay the timer issue, noting the success of other aspects of the mission, including the critical launch and landing phases. “We had a little issue with the timer in the beginning, which caused to go into a different path in the mission,” said Steve Stich, deputy manager of NASA’s commercial crew program, during the post-landing briefing. “Sometimes, when you head down these different paths, you learn more.”

“We have a solid understanding of the challenge that we had, and why it occurred,” Bridenstine added. “It is not something that is going to prevent us from moving forward quickly. We can still move forward quickly. We can get it fixed.”

Earlier in the briefing, though, Bridenstine suggested that the timer problem might prompt a more thorough review of the overall flight software on Starliner. “That gives us reason to think we need to go back and look at a lot of different things,” he said.

Neither the agency nor the company, though, would rule out going ahead directly to the Crew Flight Test mission, with three astronauts on board, despite not meeting all of the objectives of this Orbital Flight Test (OFT) mission.

“We need to take a little bit of time to look through all the data and see how the vehicle performed in all phases,” Stich said. “To me, there’s good data out there that suggests that, once we go through it, maybe it’s acceptable to go, as the next step, the Crew Flight Test.”

During the briefing, reporters noted that Boeing’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract with NASA does appear to require that the uncrewed flight test dock with the ISS. “The OFT shall include a [commercial crew transportation system] that validates end-to-end connectivity, [launch vehicle] and CST-100 integration, launch and flight operations, automated rendezvous and proximity operations, and docking with the ISS, assuming ISS approval,” it states.

NASA suggested that provision could be amended. “There’s also a difference between what is a NASA requirement and what is a contractual requirement for this particular flight test,” Bridenstine said. “The NASA requirement might not be the same as the contractual requirement for this particular flight test.”

If NASA does go ahead and fly the Crew Flight Test mission next, the Starliner that just landed, formally known as spacecraft 3, will be refurbished for the first operational, or post-certification, mission. One of the astronauts who will fly that mission, Suni Williams, said in a NASA TV interview after the landing that the spacecraft would be renamed “Calypso” in honor of the ship used by famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau.

“In a little homage to other explorers and the ships that they rode on, I think we’re going to call it Calypso,” she said. “There’s so much to discover in the ocean and there’s so much to discover in space, it just seemed like a natural marriage.”

At the post-landing briefing, both Bridenstine and Chilton seemed a little surprised by the name. “This is commercial crew, so it’s probably going to be up to our commercial partners to name the capsules,” Bridenstine said. “I would imagine that if NASA weighed in and we wanted to name it something, Boeing would probably follow suit, but we haven’t done that in this case.”

“It’s hard to resist the allure of the commander of your first revenue service flight picking her name, so I’m sure we’ll be chatting with Suni,” Chilton said. “Cool name, by the way.”


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Boeing’s Starliner capsule lands after missing rendezvous with space station
December 22, 2019 Stephen Clark [SFN]

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is seen after landing Sunday at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

An unpiloted demonstration flight of Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule ended prematurely Sunday with a smooth airbag-cushioned predawn landing in New Mexico after a timing glitch prevented it from docking with the International Space Station, leaving some test objectives incomplete as NASA begins analyzing data to determine if astronauts should fly on the next Starliner mission.

Concluding its first trip into space, the reusable Starliner capsule touched down at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico at 7:58 a.m. EST (5:58 a.m. MST; 1258 GMT) Sunday. Three red, white and blue parachutes slowed the ship’s descent, and six airbags inflated to soften the spacecraft’s landing on the desert floor, marking the first time a U.S. human-rated capsule has returned from orbit to touch down on solid ground.

Boeing recovery forces quickly approached the spaceship, ensured it was safe and stable, installed a protective environmental enclosure and opened the capsule’s hatch about an hour after landing, practicing procedures they will perform to help astronauts disembark on future missions.

The Starliner’s landing Sunday appeared to go almost perfectly, hitting a “bullseye” in the landing zone in New Mexico after an inauspicious start to the test flight Friday.

“The vessel looks great,” said Jim Chilton, vice president of Boeing’s space and launch division. “The ground crews, they’re telling us there’s hardly any charring, (it’s) perfectly level on the airbags,  and that bodes very well for reusability.”

The capsule started its flight with an 11-hour error in its mission elapsed timer setting, triggering a cascading series of problems that led to the Starliner burning too much fuel to reach the space station and deliver cargo.

Nevertheless, NASA and Boeing officials presented a positive message after Sunday’s landing, suggesting the Starliner program could move forward after a partially successful test flight. Depending on the outcome of a comprehensive data review, NASA could clear astronauts to fly on the next Starliner mission as originally intended, officials said.

“If you went straight down the checklist, I think we’d be in the low 60 percent (range) right now (of mission objectives accomplished),” Chilton said Sunday. “Inside the capsule, we have a series of data recorders, and the data on those recorders is not sent back home through telemetry — things like temperature sensors on the hull and strain gauges to see bending and what kind of shock did you see.”

Boeing’s engineers will not get the results of some of the measurements until the spacecraft is transported back to the Starliner factory and refurbishment facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. That is expected to take up to two weeks.

“If I was going to infer how that data was going to come out — from cabin temperatures and how pristine the vehicle looks — I’d say we’re probably about in the 85 to 90 percent range of our (accomplished) test objectives,” Chilton said.

Chilton added the data review is not expected to be complete until “well into January.”

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft descends under three red, white and blue main parachutes toward landing at White Sands Space Harbor, New Mexico. Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

With the Starliner spacecraft safely back on Earth, NASA and Boeing managers will review the mission results and determine whether the capsule performed well enough to permit Boeing test pilot Chris Ferguson and NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann to fly on the next Starliner mission in 2020.

“In terms of looking ahead to the Crew Flight Test, I think we have to take a little bit of time to look through all the data and see how the vehicle performed in all phases — orbit, entry and ascent — and we’ll go look at that and we’ll look the objectives we did not get, which were the rendezvous, approach and docking,” said Steve Stich, deputy manager of NASA’s commercial crew program. “And we’ll have to sit down and talk about what we do for the Crew Flight Test.

“To me, there’s good data out there that once we go through it, maybe it’s acceptable to go to the next step and do the Crew Flight Test,” Stich said.

Another option available to NASA is to redo the Starliner’s unpiloted test flight, a decision that would likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars and delay the program by months, if not longer.

Through a series of agreements and contracts since 2010, NASA is paying Boeing at least $4.8 billion to develop, demonstrate and fly the Starliner spacecraft for NASA astronauts traveling to the space station. SpaceX has received a similar set of contracts from NASA valued at $3.1 billion for the company’s Crew Dragon capsule, giving the U.S. space agency two independent ways of ferrying crews to and from the space station and ending NASA’s reliance on Russia for astronaut transportation.

But the multibillion-dollar government contracts are for commercial services, and Boeing and SpaceX retain ownership of the spacecraft, oversee flight operations and control access to proprietary data.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Sunday that he is optimistic the agency’s commercial crew program can “move forward” with the Starliner program despite the spacecraft’s failure to dock with the space station on the unpiloted Orbital Flight Test.

“Yes, there are elements of this that are missing, but there are a whole lot of elements that were completed in a positive and meaningful way,” he said. “Given what we know today, we know that we are going to move forward. We know that we’ve got a lot of learning in front of us. We’ve got enough information and data to keep moving forward in a positive way.”

The mission elapsed timer issue that cut short Starliner’s planned eight-day mission started before the spacecraft lifted off Friday from Cape Canaveral aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket, according to Chilton.

“Our spacecraft needs to reach down into the Atlas 5 and figure out what time it is, where the Atlas 5 is in its mission profile, and then we set the clock based on that,” Chilton said in a press conference Saturday. “Somehow we reached in there and grabbed the wrong (number). This doesn’t look like an Atlas problem. This looks like we reached in and grabbed the wrong coefficient.”

“As a result of starting the clock at the wrong time, the spacecraft upon reaching space, she thought she was later in the mission, and, being autonomous, started to behave that way,” Chilton said. “And so it wasn’t in the orbit we expected without the burn and it wasn’t in the attitude expected and was, in fact, adjusting that attitude.”

The frenetic thruster firings began almost as soon as the Starliner separated from the Atlas 5 rocket’s Centaur upper stage, which intentionally flew on a flattened, suborbital trajectory designed to reduce g-force loads on astronaut crews during a launch abort scenario.

The timing error prevented the Starliner from accomplishing its targeted orbit insertion maneuver. Mission control uplinked commands for the spacecraft to perform a series of burns with its smaller thrusters to reach a stable, but unplanned orbit, but the ship was no longer in a position to reach the space station.

The continual burns caused the thrusters to get hot, and in one case, a set of thrusters depleted its propellant supply. Despite intermittent messages suggesting some of the Starliner’s 28 service module control jets were unavailable, ground controllers were able to recover and reactivate all but one of the thrusters before re-entry, officials said.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Boeing Vice President Jim Chilton, and NASA deputy commercial crew program manager Steve Stich discuss the results of the Starliner’s Orbital Flight Test Sunday in a news briefing at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Credit: NASA

“The mission elapsed timing error did absolutely result in a number of follow-on challenges,” Bridenstine said Saturday. “The spacecraft thought it was in a position it was not in, so it was trying to get in the right position. So the engines were firing, the reaction control was trying to put the spacecraft in the right position.

“And that resulted in some of these engines exceeding their limitations, both from a temperature perspective and from a duty cycle (perspective),” Bridenstine said. “The engines are only supposed to run a certain number of times in a certain amount of time, and those were exceeded. Had the mission elapsed timing been correct, none of that would have happened.”

Stich said Sunday that the toughest part of the Starliner test flight was the spacecraft’s return to Earth Sunday.

“The No. 1 flight test objective was a successful de-orbit, re-entry and landing, and we did that today,” Stich said. “The vehicle flew phenomenally during entry. All the maneuvers were just exactly as planned.”

After giving up on test flight’s planned rendezvous with the space station, mission managers focused on conducting as many demonstrations of the Starliner spacecraft as possible during an abbreviated two-day solo flight in low Earth orbit.

The spacecraft extended its docking mechanism Saturday to check the mechanical system that will link future Starliner vehicles with the space station. The ship’s stellar navigation cameras were also checked out in orbit for the first time, and the solar panel power generation system worked better than expected, according to Boeing.

The temperature and other parameters inside the Starliner’s pressurized cabin also looked OK, officials said.

But some of the Starliner’s planned maneuvers around the space station, culminating in an autonomous docking, remained unproven after the spacecraft’s first Orbital Flight Test.

And some holiday presents for the space station’s crew carried on the Starliner spacecraft went undelivered. NASA said the astronauts will get the gifts after they land on Russian Soyuz spaceships next year.

Chilton said Sunday the “big pieces” of the test flight, such as its launch and landing, have been successfully demonstrated. While a successful docking with the space station was listed before the launch as a mission objective, officials said all of the test flight’s goals were not weighted equally.

“We got a brand new human-rated Atlas 5 … flying a different trajectory, different aero-shape,” Chilton said. “You can only test that at scale. That went terrific.”

The Starliner spacecraft launched Friday from Cape Canaveral on a modified, human-rated variant of United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now

“The spacecraft got a little bit of a surprising start,” Chilton said. “The the team immediately took care of that and circularized the orbit and were able to show that his spacecraft controls attitude (and) does all the things she’s supposed to do, keeps people safe. The cabin temperature, pressures, and all that were terrific.

“Return is something that you can’t really test (on the ground),” Chilton said. “You’ve got to put your heat shield on and go through the heat regime. Today, it couldn’t really have gone any better. We got down, got guidance lock and touched down in the center of the bullseye.”

Flying some 155 miles (250 kilometers) over the South Pacific Ocean, the Starliner fired four braking rockets for 55 seconds at 7:23 a.m. EST (1223 GMT) Sunday to drop out of orbit and fall back into the atmosphere, committing Starliner to its descent toward White Sands.

Moments later the Starliner’s service and crew modules separated.

The service module — hosting the ship’s abort engines, solar panels, radiators and other no-longer-needed systems — headed for a destructive re-entry over the Pacific Ocean. Protected by an ablative heat shield, thermal tiles and blankets, the crew module used its 12 control thrusters to help guide it toward White Sands on an approach over Mexico from the southwest.

Starliner encountered the first discernible traces of the atmosphere at 7:41 a.m. EST (1241 GMT). Temperatures outside the capsule were expected to reach up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,650 degrees Celsius).

The capsule triggered its parachute deployment sequence at an altitude of around 30,000 feet (9 kilometers).

The Starliner first jettisoned its upper heat shield and deployed a pair of drogue parachutes. Then mortars fired and pilot chutes pulled three main parachutes from their containers around 8,000 feet (2,400 meters). Less than a minute later, the capsule released its bottom heat shield, allowing airbags to inflate at around 3,000 feet (900 meters).

The ship was designed to touch down at a speed of about 19 mph (28 feet per second), and an instrumented dummy nicknamed “Rosie the Rocketeer” strapped into the Starliner cockpit was designed to register forces and loads at landing, and in other phases of the flight.

The Starliner’s landing Sunday marked the second time an orbiting crew-capable space vehicle has returned to Earth at White Sands. The shuttle Columbia returned to Earth and touched down on an unpaved landing strip at White Sands Space Harbor in March 1982 to conclude NASA’s third space shuttle mission.

Boeing plans to reuse the Starliner capsule on the program’s second piloted mission to the space station, commanded by veteran NASA astronaut Suni Williams. A separate spacecraft is being readied for Boeing’s Crew Flight Test, the first Starliner mission with astronauts on-board.

In remarks after Sunday’s landing, Williams named the capsule “Calypso” in an ode to the research vessel of French ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

With the post-flight Starliner data review set to get underway, Stich remained confident Sunday that astronauts will launch into orbit from U.S. soil next year for the first time since the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011.

As a program, we’ve had a tremendous year,” Stich said. “We’ve flown two orbital test flights in preparation for the crewed missions next year. We’ve flown a pad abort test in November with Boeing to test that system, and we have all the data from these two orbit test flights to set us up for crewed missions.”

SpaceX completed a successful unpiloted demonstration of its Crew Dragon spacecraft in March, when the ship accomplished an automated docking with the space station and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the U.S. East Coast.

But SpaceX encountered trouble in April, when the same spacecraft that completed the round-trip flight to the space station was destroyed in an explosion during a ground test-firing of its launch escape engines.

SpaceX says it has fixed the faulty valve problem that caused the explosion, and the company completed the abort engine hotfire test in November, setting the stage for an in-flight abort test in January. For the in-flight abort demonstration, SpaceX will mount the Crew Dragon — without passengers — to a Falcon 9 rocket and launch it into the stratosphere, then trigger an abort in the upper atmosphere to prove the capsule’s ability to get astronauts away from a failing booster.


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Boeing’s first commercial crew capsule christened ‘Calypso’
December 22, 2019 Stephen Clark [SFN]

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, named “Calypso,” seen after landing Sunday at White Sands Space Harbor, New Mexico. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Fresh from its inaugural test flight in space, Boeing’s first reusable Starliner crew capsule has been named “Calypso” by NASA astronaut Suni Williams, who will command the same vehicle on its next trip into orbit.

The Starliner spacecraft landed at 7:58 a.m. EST (5:58 a.m. MST; 1258 GMT) Sunday to complete an abbreviated two-day Orbital Flight Test.

The mission was cut short after an on-board timing error prevented the spacecraft from performing a planned orbit insertion burn soon after launch Friday. Mission controllers uplinked commands for the Starliner to enter a safe, but unplanned orbit, leaving the capsule unable to reach the International Space Station as intended.

Read our earlier story for details on the timing error, and its implications for plans to fly astronauts on the next Starliner mission.

Boeing has produced two reusable human-rated spaceships for flights to the space station under a $4.2 billion contract with NASA. The space agency has signed a similar $2.6 billion contract with SpaceX in 2014 for development of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, on which astronauts will fly new vehicles on each mission.

The Starliner vehicle that landed Sunday in New Mexico, designated Spacecraft 3, is slated to fly again on Boeing’s second crewed mission. NASA has assigned astronauts Suni Williams and Josh Cassada that Starliner mission, the first regular crew rotation flight to the space station.

Williams and Cassada will be joined by two other crew members from NASA’s international partners. Their mission will follow the Crew Flight Test that will use Spacecraft 2, which is in final assembly at Boeing’s Starliner factor at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Each of the space-rated Starliner vehicles is designed for 10 missions.

Spacecraft 1 was built for Boeing’s pad abort test and is not intended to fly in space.

Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, a former NASA space shuttle commander, will launch on the Crew Flight Test to the space station with NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann.

Ferguson, Fincke, Mann and Williams were in New Mexico Sunday for the Starliner landing.

In an interview on NASA TV’s landing broadcast, Williams said she has named the Starliner vehicle that returned Sunday “Calypso” in an ode to the research vessel used by French explorer Jacques Cousteau.

“I love the ocean,” said Williams, a retired U.S. Navy captain and a veteran of two previous space station expeditions. “There’s so much to discover in the ocean, and there’s so much to discover in space. It just seemed like a natural marriage.”

NASA astronaut Suni Williams. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Boeing owns the Starliner crew capsules, and a senior company official said Sunday he liked the name Calypso.

“(It’s) hard to resist the allure of the commander of your first revenue service flight picking her (spacecraft) name,” said Jim Chilton, vice president of Boeing’s space and launch division.

“Cool name, by the way, on a personal note,” he added. “It evokes Jacques Cousteau and exploration.”

In Greek mythology, Calypso is the daughter of Atlas. On the program’s early missions, all Starliner spacecraft will lift off on top of United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rockets.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine also endorsed the name choice.

“Calypso it is!” Bridenstine tweeted Sunday.


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Starliner in good shape after shortened test flight
by Jeff Foust — December 29, 2019 [SN]

The CST-100 Starliner spacecraft shortly after its Dec. 22 landing at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Boeing said Dec. 28 that the spacecraft was in good condition after its abbreviated orbital test flight. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

SANTA FE, N.M. — The Boeing CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle that flew an abbreviated test flight this month appears to be in good condition as an investigation into the timer problem that shortened the flight continues.

In a Dec. 28 update, Boeing said technicians are continuing processing of the Starliner vehicle that landed Dec. 22 at White Sands Missile Range after a two-day uncrewed test flight. The spacecraft, christened “Calypso” by NASA astronaut Sunita Williams after landing, will be transported back to Boeing’s facilities at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida after the first of the year.

Since that landing, workers have retrieved videos from onboard cameras and other data stored on the spacecraft during the flight. Boeing said it anticipated releasing videos from those onboard cameras in the next week.

Boeing emphasized the good condition of the spacecraft, which showed “little scorching” from reentry and used only a fraction of its onboard propellant reserved for reentry, which the company said confirmed aerodynamic models of the spacecraft. The interior of the Starliner cabin appeared the same after landing as it did before its Dec. 20 launch from Cape Canaveral, the company noted, evidence that “the Starliner’s fully operational life support system functioned as intended and the layout of the interior is well-suited to support crew members in the future.”

The statement, though, provided no updates on the timer problem that turned what was originally an eight-day mission into a two-day one without a planned docking at the International Space Station. The spacecraft’s mission elapsed timer, which is set by communicating with its Atlas 5 rocket prior to liftoff, was off by 11 hours. That caused the spacecraft to think it was on the wrong phase of its mission after separation from the rocket’s upper stage, triggering thruster firings that used excessive amounts of fuel until ground controllers could take over and turn off the thrusters.

Why the timer was off, particularly by such a large amount, any why it wasn’t detected prior to launch is not known. “If I knew, it wouldn’t have happened,” said Jim Chilton, senior vice president for Boeing’s space and launch division, at a Dec. 21 briefing. “We are surprised. A very large body of integrated tests, approved by NASA, didn’t surface this.”

After landing, NASA leadership stated that the problem, once understood and corrected, would not necessarily prevent Boeing from proceeding with a crewed test flight. “It is not something that is going to prevent us from moving forward quickly,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said at a post-landing briefing Dec. 22. “We can still move forward quickly. We can get it fixed.” He also suggested, though, that the timer problem might lead to a more thorough review of the Starliner’s overall flight software or other systems.

One returned to Florida, the Starliner named Calypso will be refurbished for Boeing’s first post-certification, or operational, mission to the ISS. That mission will carry Williams and fellow NASA astronaut Josh Cassada along with two astronauts yet to be assigned from other ISS partners.


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Joint NASA-Boeing team to investigate Starliner test flight anomaly
by Jeff Foust — January 7, 2020 [SN]

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft after its Dec. 22 landing that ended a truncated uncrewed test flight. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

HONOLULU — NASA and Boeing will cooperate on an investigation into a timer anomaly that cut short December’s uncrewed test flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft as NASA weighs whether to require another such test flight.

In a Jan. 7 statement, NASA said the agency and Boeing were establishing a “joint, independent investigation team” to determine the primary cause of the timer problem the Starliner suffered immediately after its Dec. 20 launch on what was to be an eight-day mission to the International Space Station.

Boeing later said that the mission elapsed timer on the spacecraft was off by 11 hours, causing the spacecraft to think it was in the wrong phase of its mission immediately after separation from the upper stage of the Atlas 5 that launched it. The spacecraft fired its thrusters in reaction to the incorrect time, and by the time spacecraft controllers on the ground were able to take control, the spacecraft had expended too much propellant to allow it to dock with the station. The spacecraft instead landed safely at White Sands, New Mexico, Dec. 22.

The joint investigation, NASA said in the statement, will seek the root cause of the timer anomaly and also investigate any other software issues, and recommend corrective actions to implement prior to Starliner carrying people. NASA said it estimates the team will take two months to complete its work.

At the same time that investigation is underway, NASA will separately examine if a second uncrewed test flight will be needed before it allows astronauts to fly on the spacecraft. “NASA’s approach will be to determine if NASA and Boeing received enough data to validate the system’s overall performance, including launch, on-orbit operations, guidance, navigation and control, docking/undocking to the space station, reentry and landing,” the agency said in its statement, a process expected to take several weeks.

That uncrewed test flight, known as the Orbital Flight Test, did not approach or dock with the station. “Although data from the uncrewed test is important for certification, it may not be the only way that Boeing is able to demonstrate its system’s full capabilities,” NASA stated.

The Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract that NASA awarded to Boeing did require an uncrewed test flight that included a docking. However, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine suggested at a post-landing briefing Dec. 22 that NASA might not hold Boeing to that requirement.

“There’s also a difference between what is a NASA requirement and what is a contractual requirement for this particular flight test,” Bridenstine said then. “The NASA requirement might not be the same as the contractual requirement for this particular flight test.”

“Although docking was planned, it may not have to be accomplished prior to the crew demonstration,” NASA said in the new statement. “Boeing would need NASA’s approval to proceed with a flight test with astronauts onboard.”

Neither NASA nor Boeing have released additional information about the timer anomaly since the mission. Boeing officials said during the mission that the timer is set on Starliner prior to launch by using data from the Atlas 5, but that the spacecraft have accessed the wrong data.

In a Dec. 28 update, Boeing said that the spacecraft itself was in good condition after the abbreviated flight, performing as expected or better while in orbit and during reentry and landing. Boeing announced Jan. 3 that the spacecraft was on its way back to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for additional post-flight analysis and refurbishment for a future crewed test flight. That cross-country shipment was scheduled to last 10 days.


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Boeing takes $410 million charge to cover potential additional commercial crew test flight
by Jeff Foust — January 30, 2020 [SN]

Boeing said the $410 million charge it took to its fourth quarter earnings will cover an additional uncrewed test flight of its CST-100 Starliner commercial crew spacecraft, if NASA decides it is needed. Credit: Boeing

WASHINGTON — Boeing is taking a $410 million charge to its earnings to cover a potential additional uncrewed test flight of its CST-100 Starliner, although company officials say there’s no decision yet about whether such a flight is necessary.

The company said in its fourth quarter earnings release Jan. 29 that it was taking the charge “primarily to provision for an additional uncrewed mission for the Commercial Crew program, performance and mix.” It noted that NASA was still reviewing data from the Orbital Flight Test (OFT) mission in December that was cut short, without a docking at the International Space Station, by a timer problem.

“NASA is in the process of reviewing the data from our December 2019 mission,” Greg Smith, chief financial officer at Boeing, said in an earnings call. “NASA’s approval is required to proceed with a flight test with astronauts on board. Given this obligation, we are provisioned for another uncrewed mission.” Neither he nor Boeing’s new chief executive, David Calhoun, elaborated on that during the call, which was devoted primarily to issues related to the company’s 737 MAX airliner.

Boeing officials, speaking at the 23rd Annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference here Jan. 29, did not directly address that charge, but played up the aspects of the test flight that went well while noting the investigation into the root cause of the timer problem was ongoing.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work internally looking at the results and we found that the vehicle actually performed exceptionally when you look at all the other activities that it did,” said Peter McGrath, global sales and marketing director for space exploration at Boeing Defense and Space. “Right now we’re working with NASA, with an independent team, to look at root cause and corrective actions we need to do for the next mission.”

“The mission didn’t go as planned because we made a mistake,” said Jim Chilton, senior vice president for space and launch at Boeing Defense and Space. The timer issue, he said, caused the spacecraft to think it was in a different phase of the mission immediately after separation from its Atlas 5 launch vehicle.

Other aspects of the spacecraft, he said, performed well. That included, he said, the spacecraft’s thrusters, a topic of particular scrutiny since they were stressed during the mission. “We had a great propulsion test. It was in advertent. We didn’t plan to fire those thrusters as many times in a row early in first flight as we did,” he said. “The good news is they worked like a charm.”

Some of the thrusters did have to be turned off because they heated up, Chilton said. Those thrusters were turned back on “incrementally,” he said, with the exception of one thruster that did not turn back on. “We feel pretty good about our propulsion system.”

He added that a few things “surprised” them, such as initial communications problems once Starliner was in orbit, which may be simply the attitude the spacecraft was in. He said an initial set of data reviews from the mission should be completed by the end of this week. “We’re really not seeing any big showstoppers, although we do see things we think we’ll change,” he said.

In an interview after his remarks, Chilton said the decision to take the $410 million charge was a precautionary one. “We’re ready for anything,” he said. “NASA is going to decide what we should do next, but they could decide to refly an OFT, and if that’s what they want to do, we’re ready for it.”

There is no formal timeline for a decision on whether to fly another uncrewed Starliner, although Chilton said that he expected it to come by the end of February.


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NASA safety panel calls for reviews after second Starliner software problem
by Jeff Foust — February 6, 2020
Updated 7:35 Eastern with Boeing comments.

A NASA safety panel said Feb. 6 a second software problem during the Starliner's uncrewed test flight in December, had it not been caught in ground testing, could have led to a "catastrophic" failure. Credit: Boeing

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — A NASA safety panel is recommending a review of Boeing’s software verification processes after revealing there was a second software problem during a CST-100 Starliner test flight that could have led to a “catastrophic” failure.

That new software problem, not previously discussed by NASA or Boeing, was discussed during a Feb. 6 meeting of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel that examined the December uncrewed test flight of Starliner that was cut short by a timer error.

That anomaly was discovered during ground testing while the spacecraft was in orbit, panel member Paul Hill said. “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,” he said.

The exact cause of the failure remains under investigation by Boeing and NASA, who are also still examining the timer failure previously reported. Those problems, Hill said, suggested broader issues with how Boeing develops and tests the software used by the spacecraft.

“The panel has a larger concern with the rigor of Boeing’s verification processes,” he said. The panel called for reviews of Boeing’s flight software integration and testing processes. “Further, with confidence at risk for a spacecraft that is intended to carry humans in space, the panel recommends an even broader Boeing assessment of, and corrective actions in, Boeing’s [systems engineering and integration] processes and verification testing.”

The panel added that all those investigations and reviews be completed as “required input for a formal NASA review to determine flight readiness for either another uncrewed flight test or proceeding directly to a crewed test flight.”

In a statement late Feb. 6, Boeing said it accepted the “suggestions” from the panel as well as recommendations from a separate NASA-Boeing independent review team (IRT) investigating the issues with the December Starliner flight. Neither NASA nor Boeing has released any summary of that independent team’s work prior to the statement.

In the statement, Boeing described the new software problem as “a valve mapping software issue, which was diagnosed and fixed in flight.” According to the company, “That error in the software would have resulted in an incorrect thruster separation and disposal burn. What would have resulted from that is unclear.”

Boeing added that the independent review team also identified what it believes to be the root cause of the timer problem and offered corrective actions and recommendations, but did not disclose that cause. The team is also making “significant progress” on resolving communications dropouts that exacerbated problems early in the test flight.

Boeing said Jan. 30 that, while no decision had been made yet about performing a second uncrewed test flight, it was taking a $410 million charge against its earnings in part to cover the costs of a second uncrewed flight. In a Jan. 30 interview, Jim Chilton, senior vice president for space and launch at Boeing Defense and Space, said he expected a decision on flying a second test flight to come by the end of February.

Patricia Sanders, chair of the panel, noted that NASA has decided to proceed with an “organizational safety assessment” with Boeing. NASA announced in 2018 it would conduct such reviews of both Boeing and SpaceX, the other commercial crew company, after SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk was seen briefly smoking marijuana during a podcast. NASA, while completing the SpaceX review, deferred the Boeing one, reportedly because of cost issues.

“The review of SpaceX proved to be valuable to both NASA and the company, so it’s a prudent step to execute the same process with the other provider,” she said.

Boeing acknowledged that review in its statement. “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,” Boeing said. “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.”

At the panel meeting, Sanders painted a more optimistic view of SpaceX’s commercial crew work during the meeting. She said SpaceX still has to resolve a number of technical issues, such as the interaction of titanium with nitrogen tetroxide, which was blamed for the explosion of a Crew Dragon spacecraft during preparations for a static fire test of its abort engines in April 2019. But, she added, “the end appears to be in sight” for that work.

“The panel’s assessment of the status of SpaceX is that NASA is at a point where there is not a question of whether they will be flying crew in the near term, but when, and under what risk conditions,” she said.


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Starliner investigation finds numerous problems in Boeing software development process
by Jeff Foust — February 7, 2020 [SN]

Boeing corrected a software flaw that could have caused the Starliner's service module to run into the crew capsule just a few hours before Starliner landed in New Mexico. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

WASHINGTON — Boeing will reverify all the software on its CST-100 Starliner commercial crew spacecraft after an ongoing investigation found “numerous” problems in the original development process that allowed at least two major problems to escape detection.

In a call with reporters Feb. 7, NASA and Boeing officials said they had made no decisions about whether a second uncrewed test flight, or Orbital Flight Test (OFT) of the spacecraft will be needed, but that there were significant issues with the spacecraft, in particular how its software was developed, that need to be corrected.

“We do think that the OFT flight had a lot of anomalies,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine during the call.

Of particular concern is the software on Starliner. One issue, found immediately after separating from its upper stage, was a timer offset that prevented the spacecraft from firing its thrusters as planned to reach orbit. While the spacecraft was able to reach orbit, it consumed more fuel than planned, ruling out a planned International Space Station docking and ending the mission just two days after launch.

John Mulholland, vice president and program manager for the Starliner program at Boeing, said the Starliner software is intended to initialize its mission elapsed timer from the Atlas 5 launch vehicle, but only in the “terminal count” phase of the countdown. The software, he said, lacked that terminal count requirement. “So, it polled an incorrect mission elapsed time from the launch vehicle, which then gave us an 11-hour mismatch,” he said.

The second problem, revealed Feb. 6 at a meeting of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), was a “valve mapping error” for the thrusters in the vehicle’s service module. Those thrusters perform a “disposal burn” of the service module after separating from the crew module just before reentry.

Mulholland said the valves were configured for conditions in normal flight for that disposal burn, which, had it not been corrected, could have pushed the service module into the crew module. That could have caused the crew capsule to become unstable, requiring additional thruster firings to reorient itself, or have damaged the capsule’s heat shield.

The second error was detected during the review of the spacecraft software on the ground after the timer problem took place. Mulholland said engineers found the thruster software issue late Dec. 21, with the corrected and reverified code uploaded to the spacecraft around 5 a.m. Eastern Dec. 22, or about three hours before the spacecraft landed at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

“We went hunting immediately after our first software problem, and we found one,” said Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing Space and Launch, of the thruster error. “I don’t think we would have found it if we hadn’t gone looking right after that first one.”

The two software problems are signs of a more fundamental issue, NASA argued. “The real problem is that we had numerous process escapes in the design, development and test cycle for software,” said Doug Loverro, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations. “As we go forward, that is what we’re going to be concentrating on.”

The software, Mulholland said, is supposed to go through a “pretty standard” development process where code is written and goes through peer reviews and a series of tests leading up to formal qualification tests. “There are a number of checks along the way that are designed to uncover and correct code errors as early as you can,” he said.

However, there were “breakdowns in multiple areas in that process” discovered by the independent review team, Loverro said. “For each of these two problems that we know about, some of that breakdown was in different spots and some was in the same spot of the process.”

“The process broke down in many areas for each of these things, and that’s one of the reasons why we have to go back and do such a thorough review of all of the software,” he added.

Mulholland said that Boeing planned to review all of the software developed for Starliner, which totals about one million lines of code. “We believe we need to go back and reverify all of the software code,” he said. Boeing will consult with NASA and the independent review team to confirm that plan, but didn’t state how long that reverification process would take.

The overall investigation into the problems encountered with the mission, which also includes communications glitches not related to the software, is still in progress. Bridenstine said that the investigation should be complete by the end of the month.

He suggested the only reason NASA and Boeing held this briefing was that ASAP had been briefed about an interim report on the ongoing investigation, which ASAP then discussed at its Feb. 6 public meeting. “But in the interests of transparency, and some of the things that I saw online yesterday, I wanted to make sure that everybody knew kind of where we were in the investigation,” he said.

Because that investigation is ongoing, he said it was premature to decide whether a second uncrewed test flight will be needed, something Loverro agreed with. “You don’t go ahead and do flight tests to verify that you’ve solved problems. You do flight tests to look at a holistic picture of the system,” Loverro said. The need for another flight test, he said, will only become clear after completing the reviews and fixing the process errors.

That will include a full organizational safety assessment of Boeing, which the ASAP also revealed at its meeting. Part of the reason for that review, Loverro said, was “press reports that we’ve seen from other parts of Boeing,” an apparent reference to problems with its 737 Max airliner, which has been grounded since two crashes blamed on the plane’s new software. “There could possibly be process issues at Boeing, and so we want to understand what the culture is at Boeing that may have led to that.”

“This just continues to show that we need to be vigilant,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s commercial crew program, of the overall investigation. “We’ll continue to take the lessons and the items they are bringing up in their very thorough review forward, and continue to get better.”


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NASA, Boeing managers admit problems with Starliner software verification
February 7, 2020 William Harwood [SFN]
EDITOR’S NOTE: Updated at 6 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT) after NASA and Boeing media teleconference.

Artist’s concept of the Starliner service module (top) separating from the Starliner crew module before re-entry. Credit: Boeing

Two software errors detected after launch of a Boeing Starliner crew ship during an unpiloted test flight last December, one of which prevented a planned docking with the International Space Station, could have led to catastrophic failures had they not been caught and corrected in time, NASA said Friday.

An independent review board “found the two critical software defects were not detected ahead of flight despite multiple safeguards,” according to an agency statement. “Ground intervention prevented loss of vehicle in both cases.”

In a teleconference with reporters, Douglas Loverro, director of spaceflight operations at NASA Headquarters, said the issues uncovered by the investigators go beyond the specifics of the software errors and an unexpected communications glitch that initially prevented flight controllers from commanding the spacecraft.

“Too put it bluntly, the issue that we’re dealing with is that we have numerous process escapes in the software design, development and test cycle for Starliner,” he said. The errors themselves “are likely only symptoms, they are not the real problem. The real problem is that we had numerous process escapes” that allowed the errors to slip through.

The Starliner software is made up of a million lines of code and “as we go forward, that is what we’re going to be concentrating on, how do we assure ourselves that all of the software that we’ve delivered, not just the two routines that were affected by these issues, are fixed.”

“Our NASA oversight was insufficient,” Loverro concluded. “That’s obvious, and we we recognize that. And I think that’s good learning for us. The independent review team didn’t just have recommendations for Boeing, it’s got recommendations for us as well, and we’re going to take all those to heart.”

Neither Loverro, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine nor Boeing Starliner project manager John Mulholland would speculate on whether a second unpiloted test flight might be ordered or even whether a Starliner, piloted or unpiloted, would fly this year. No such decisions will be made until after the safety review concludes at the end of the month.

“We will not speculate right now on a specific launch date,” Mulholland said. “What we have to do is fully understand the scope of the corrective actions, implement that into a work plan. Once we get that scope defined … we’ll be able to evaluate a specific launch target.”

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner was launched from Cape Canaveral atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket on Dec. 20. The goal of the flight was to put the commercial crew ship through its paces, from launch through rendezvous and docking with the space station to re-entry and splashdown, to clear the capsule for a piloted test flight.

The Atlas 5 put the Starliner onto a sub-orbital trajectory as planned. After release from the rocket’s Centaur second stage, the spacecraft was expected to fire its own thrusters to put the craft into a safe orbit. But the critical orbit insertion rocket firing never happened, and the Starliner continued along a trajectory that, without quick corrective action, would have resulted in a catastrophic unplanned re-entry.

After struggling with communications glitches, engineers finally managed to regain control and put the spacecraft in a safe orbit. But by then, too much propellant had been wasted to press ahead with a planned rendezvous with the International Space Station. Instead, flight controllers focused on carrying out as many other tests as possible before bringing the ship down for landing in New Mexico two days later.

The Starliner’s failure to execute the orbit insertion burn was blamed on software that incorrectly set the spacecraft’s internal clocks based on data retrieved from the Atlas 5’s flight control system. The Starliner code should have retrieved the time during the terminal countdown, after the Atlas 5’s clocks were precisely set for launch.

Instead, the Starliner computer retrieved the time used during an earlier countdown sequence and as a result, its timer was 11 hours off from the actual time. That, in turn, threw off the timing of downstream post-launch events like the orbit insertion burn.

With that problem finally corrected, engineers began reviewing other critical software sequences as a precaution and discovered yet another problem. Software used to control thruster firings needed to safely jettison the Starliner’s service module just before re-entry was mis-configured, set for the wrong phase of flight.

Had the problem not been found and corrected, the cylindrical service module’s thrusters could have fired in the wrong sequence, driving it back into the crew module and possibly triggering a tumble or even damaging the ship’s protective heat shield.

While a detailed analysis was not carried out at the time, “nothing good can come from those two spacecraft bumping back into one another,” said Jim Chilton, a senior vice president for Boeing Space and Launch.

The timing problem was widely known during the Starliner test flight, but the service module issue was not revealed in any detail until a meeting of the NASA Aerospace Safety and Advisory Panel Thursday, setting off widespread social media calls for more information and “transparency” from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

NASA responded with the on-line statement and media teleconference Friday.

“It is very unusual for NASA to do a press conference about what the investigation results are as the investigation is underway,” Bridenstine said. “But in the interest of transparency and, you know, some of the things that I saw online yesterday, I wanted to make sure that everybody knew kind of where we were in the investigation.”

Engineers are still investigating what caused the communications glitches that initially prevented flight controllers from quickly correcting the timing issue. As it turns out, Mulholland said high background radio noise, possibly from cell phone towers, may have played a role.

In any case, “software defects, particularly in complex spacecraft code, are not unexpected,” NASA said in its statement. “However, there were numerous instances where the Boeing software quality processes either should have or could have uncovered the defects.

“Due to these breakdowns found in design, code and test of the software, they will require systemic corrective actions. The team has already identified a robust set of 11 top-priority corrective actions. More will be identified after the team completes its additional work.”

Said Mulholland: “Nobody is more disappointed in the issues that we uncovered … than the Starliner team. But to a person, they’re committed to resolving these issues in partnership with NASA and the IRT and safely returning to flight.”

Since the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011, NASA has been forced to buy seats aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry U.S. and partner astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

To end sole reliance on Russia for transportation to and from the space station, NASA announced in 2014 that Boeing and SpaceX would share $6.8 billion to develop independent space taxis, the first new U.S. crewed spacecraft since the 1970s.

Under a $2.6 billion contract, SpaceX is building a crewed version of its Dragon cargo ship that will ride into orbit atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. Boeing’s Starliner is being developed under a $4.2 billion contract.

SpaceX carried out a successful unpiloted flight to the space station in March 2019, but suffered a major setback the following April when that same Crew Dragon capsule was destroyed during a ground test. The California rocket builder has recovered from that incident and carried out a successful in-flight abort test in January.

It is widely expected that SpaceX will be ready to launch a Crew Dragon carrying two NASA astronauts — Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken — sometime this spring.

Boeing’s unpiloted test flight in December was only partially successful because of the two software errors and the communications glitch. It’s not yet known whether NASA will order a second unpiloted test flight or whether Boeing will be cleared to press ahead for a piloted mission after corrective actions are implemented.

“It’s still too early for us to definitively share the root causes and full set of corrective actions needed for the Starliner system,” NASA said. “We do expect to have those results at the end of February, as was our initial plan.

“Most critically, we want to assure that these necessary steps are completely understood prior to determining the plan for future flights. Separate from the anomaly investigation, NASA also is still reviewing the data collected during the flight test to help determine that future plan. NASA expects a decision on this review to be complete in the next several weeks.”


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Boeing says thorough testing would have caught Starliner software problems
February 28, 2020 Stephen Clark [SFN]

The crew module for the next test flight of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is pictured inside the company’s factory and processing facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Boeing

The program manager in charge of Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule program said Friday that additional checks would have uncovered problems with the spaceship’s software that plagued the craft’s first unpiloted orbital test flight in December, but he pushed back against suggestions that Boeing engineers took shortcuts during ground testing.

Boeing missed a pair of software errors during the Starliner’s Orbital Flight Test. One prevented the spacecraft from docking with the International Space Station, and the other could have resulted in catastrophic damage to the capsule during its return to Earth.

Both errors could have been caught before launch if Boeing had performed more thorough software testing on the ground, according to John Mulholland, vice president and manager of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner program.

Mulholland said Boeing engineers performed testing of Starliner’s software in chunks, with each test focused on a specific segment of the mission. Boeing did not perform an end-to-end test of the entire software suite, and in some cases used stand-ins, or emulators, for flight computers.

“We are recommitting ourselves to the discipline needed to test and qualify our products,” Mulholland said Friday in a conference call with reporters. “The Boeing team is committed to the success of the Starliner program, and we are putting in the time and the resources to move forward.”

The Orbital Flight Test, or OFT, in December was intended to demonstrate the Starliner’s performance in space for the first time ahead of the capsule’s first flight with astronauts this year. The issues that plagued the OFT mission might force Boeing and NASA to plan a second unpiloted test flight before moving on to a crewed mission.

Officials have not decided whether another automated test flight might be required, or said when the Starliner might fly in space again.

Boeing developed the Starliner spacecraft under contract to NASA, which is seeking to end its sole reliance on Russian Soyuz crew capsules to ferry astronauts to and from the space station. NASA awarded Boeing a $4.2 billion contract and SpaceX received a $2.6 billion deal in 2014 to complete development of the Starliner and Crew Dragon spaceships.

The Crew Dragon completed a successful unpiloted test flight to the space station in March 2019, and then demonstrated the capsule’s in-flight launch abort capability in January. Final preparations are underway for the first Crew Dragon flight with astronauts on-board, which could take off as soon as May.

After the OFT mission exposed inadequate testing, Boeing’s engineers are examining every line of Starliner software to ensure teams did not miss any other errors that went undetected during the spacecraft’s December test flight.

“Hindsight uncovered a couple of the issues, but I really don’t want you or anyone to have the impression that this team tried to take shortcuts,” Mulholland said. “They didn’t. They did an abundance of testing, and in certain areas, obviously, we have gaps to go fill. But this is an incredibly talented and strong team.”

One of the software problems was immediately apparent after the Starliner’s otherwise successful ascent into space Dec. 20 from Cape Canaveral aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. A mission elapsed timer on the capsule had a wrong setting, causing the spacecraft to miss a planned engine firing soon after separating from the Atlas 5’s Centaur upper stage.

The orbit insertion burn was required to inject the Starliner capsule into a stable orbit and begin its pursuit of the space station. After the automated sequence failed due to the on-board timer setting, ground controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston had to uplink manual commands for the Starliner spacecraft to perform the orbit insertion burn, but the ship burned too much fuel during the process, leaving insufficient propellant to rendezvous and dock with the space station.

Ground teams in Houston also encountered trouble establishing a stable communications link with the Starliner when they attempted to send commands for the orbit insertion burn, further delaying the start of the maneuver. Boeing says ground teams had issues connecting with the spacecraft on more than 30 additional occasions during the Starliner’s two-day test flight.

With a docking to the space station no longer possible, mission managers cut short the Starliner test flight and targeted a landing of the capsule at White Sands Space Harbor, New Mexico, on Dec. 22.

After the mission timer problem, Boeing engineers reviewed other segments of the Starliner’s software code to search for other problem areas. They uncovered another software error that was missed in pre-flight testing, which could have caused the Starliner’s service module to slam into the craft’s crew module after the ship’s two elements separated just before re-entry into the atmosphere.

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is seen after landing Dec. 22 at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico following the ship’s first unpiloted Orbital Flight Test. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Controllers sent a software patch to the Starliner spacecraft to resolve the potential problem before it performed a deorbit burn to aim for landing in New Mexico.

Mulholland said Friday that more extensive testing before the Starliner test flight would have revealed the software errors.

Engineers traced the mission elapsed time problem to a coding error that caused the Starliner spacecraft retrieve the wrong time from the Atlas 5 rocket’s flight control system. The Starliner set its internal clocks based on a time captured from the Atlas 5’s computer hours before launch, when it should have retrieved the time from the launch vehicle in the terminal countdown.

Joint software simulations between Boeing and ULA focused only on the launch sequence, when the Starliner spacecraft is attached to the Atlas 5 rocket. The simulations ended at the time of the capsule’s deployment from the launcher, but testing would have revealed the timing error if the simulations continued through the time of the orbit insertion burn, which was scheduled to occur around a half-hour after liftoff.

“If we had run that integrated test for a number of minutes longer, it would have uncovered the issue,” Mulholland said.

“I think the sensitivity of this mission elapsed time was not recognized by the team and wasn’t believed to be an important aspect of the mission, so ideally we would have run that (software test) through at least … the first orbital insertion burn,” Mulholland said. “So from a hindsight standpoint, I think it’s very easy to see what we should have done because we uncovered an error.

“If we would have run the integrated test with ULA through the first orbital insertion burn timeframe, we would have seen that we would have missed the orbital insertion burn because the timing was corrupt,” he said. “When we got to that point in time, the software believed that the burn had happened many hours before, so it didn’t do the burn.”

Mulholland said Boeing teams thought it was more logical to break the Starliner mission phases into pieces, and run software testing on each segment of the flight.

“When you do a single run from launch to docking, that’s a 25-plus-hour single run in the computer,” he said.

“The team, at the time, decided that they would have multiple tests of different chunks of the mission,” Mulholland said. “It was not a matter at all of the team consciously shortcutting, or not doing what they believed was appropriate.”

Before every future Starliner mission, Boeing will run longer tests in software integration labs encompassing all events from launch through docking with the space station, then from undocking through landing, according to Mulholland.

Mulholland said more thorough testing could have also revealed the mis-configured software needed to safely jettison the Starliner’s service module before re-entry. Without a software patch, the service module, or propulsion element, could have rammed back into the crew module after separation, damaging the ship’s heat shield, or worse.

A propulsion controller is responsible for coordinating thruster burns on the service module to ensure it does not recontact the crew module after separation, which occurs after the Starliner’s deorbit burn and before re-entry.

The service module is designed to burn up in the atmosphere, while the reusable crew module descends back to Earth protected by a heat shield.

The propulsion controller on the Starliner service module is based on a design used by another program, and its software was improperly configured for the service module’s disposal burn after separating from the crew module, Mulholland said. The propulsion controller had a wrong “jet map,” which contains information about the service module’s thrusters and valves.

The Starliner uses two different jet maps: One when the entire spacecraft is connected — when the crew module computers command thruster firings — and another for the disposal burn after the service module is jettisoned.

“The only thing that was picked up was the one jet map for the integrated spacecraft, and we missed the jet map that was required for the service after separation,” Mulholland said.

He said software testing for the propulsion controller used an emulator, or a simulated component, rather than the actual controller intended to fly on the Starliner spacecraft. When Boeing ran the software simulation, the real propulsion controller was being used for test-firings of the service module thrusters in New Mexico.

“While that propulsion controller was outside supporting that other test was when they ran the qualification test of that section of the software, and because we had an incorrect emulator (and) it didn’t have the correct jet mapping, that issue was not uncovered during the qualification test,” Mulholland said. “Because that hardware was returned to the lab, we were able to, during the mission, re-run that sequence, identify the jet mapping issue and upload the software fix before we did the re-entry burn.”

One of many improvements Boeing says it is implementing is a requirement to ensure the proper hardware, avionics boxes and other components are included in future software tests.

“So if it is important to have a specific piece of avionics in the lab, we’ll be required to have that in there before we actually run the qualification test,” Mulholland said.

Another problem encountered during the Starliner test flight involved the ship’s communications link with NASA’s network of Tracking and Data Relay Satellites.

The spacecraft had trouble locking onto the TDRS network 37 times during the two-day test flight in December, according to Mulholland. Boeing engineers have identified the cause of one of the communications interruptions, which was caused by an explainable “false lock” condition, Mulholland said.

The other 36 instances of an unexpected communications outage all occurred over northern Europe and Russia, including on the Starliner’s first pass over the region minutes after launching from Florida. That’s when ground teams had trouble sending a command for the spacecraft to perform an orbit insertion burn after the mission elapsed timing error.

An independent review team chartered to investigate the problems that cropped up on the Starliner test flight is nearing the end of its inquiry. The results of the investigation will be announced next Friday, March 6.

But Mulholland said engineers are still looking into the communications issues, and a final verdict on the cause of the radio link interruptions is not expected next week.

Despite the problems in flight, the Starliner spacecraft safely returned to Earth and post-landing inspections show it can be flown again, Boeing says.

The ship’s heat shield and parachutes performed well, as did the Starliner’s life support systems, Mulholland said. Boeing was also able to test the functionality of the capsule’s docking system, but teams were unable to fully check the performance of the Starliner’s rendezvous and navigation sensors because the spacecraft did not dock with the space station.

Boeing technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida are readying a second Starliner vehicle for the next test flight, whether it is a redo of the unpiloted OFT mission, or the first test flight with astronauts on-board.


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