Timer error thwarts Boeing’s test capsule mission to space station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: A timer error prevented Boeing's new astronaut capsule from reaching the desired orbit as it embarked on an unmanned debut journey to the International Space Station on Friday (Dec 20), US space agency NASA said.

The CST-100 Starliner astronaut capsule successfully launched earlier from Cape Canaveral in Florida, but then failed to reach the orbit that would have put it on track to meet up with the space station.

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The mission was a milestone test for the US aerospace firm, which is vying with SpaceX to revive NASA's human spaceflight capabilities.

The plan was now for the capsule to head back to Earth, landing at White Sands, New Mexico on Sunday, Boeing's space chief executive Jim Chilton told a news conference.

This is the landing site that would have been used if the capsule had completed its planned week-long stay at the space station.

“That was the absolutely the right decision for this mission,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told the news conference.

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He said the timer error meant that the capsule burned fuel too soon, preventing it from reaching the desired orbit.

“We did obviously have some challenges today. When the spacecraft separated from the launch vehicle we did not get the orbital insertion burn that we were hoping for,” Bridenstine said.

He said that had astronauts been on board, they would have been safe.

"The challenge here has to do with automation,” he said of the unmanned spacecraft, adding that if astronauts had been on board they would have been able to override the automated system that caused the error.

SUCCESSFUL LAUNCH

The spacecraft, a cone-shaped pod with seven astronaut seats, blasted off from Cape Canaveral at 6.36am (1136 GMT) atop an Atlas V rocket from Boeing-Lockheed Martin Corp's United Launch Alliance.

Minutes after liftoff, Starliner detached from the main rocket booster, aiming for a rendezvous some 409 km into space on Saturday morning with the space station.

Both Boeing and NASA said that while the capsule had not reached the intended orbit it was in a stable position.

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, atop an ULA Atlas V rocket, lifts off on an uncrewed Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station from launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida Dec 20, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Joe Skipper)

Nicole Mann, one of three astronauts slated to fly on Boeings first crewed flight test, said “We are looking forward to flying on Starliner. We don't have any safety concerns.” NASA astronaut Mike Fincke added, “Had we been on board, we could have given the flight control team more options on what to do in this situation”.

The test is one of the most daunting milestones required by NASA's Commercial Crew Programme to certify the capsule for eventual human spaceflight – a long-delayed goal set back years by development hurdles from both Boeing and SpaceX.

Despite the delays, and a blistering November government watchdog report that found Boeing received an "unnecessary" contract boost from NASA, a successful mission would hand Boeing an engineering and public relations win in a year punctuated by a corporate crisis over a ban on its 737 MAX jetliner following fatal crasRead More – Source