A Boeing spacecraft that was launched as part of a flight test early Friday will not dock with the International Space Station after an automation issue in space prevented it from proceeding on its orbital path.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Boeing officials attempted to put a positive spin on what is ultimately a failed test for Boeing in its race with several other private companies to build a rocket capable of launching NASA astronauts into space from American soil, which hasn’t been done in nearly a decade.
Bridenstine noted that he spoke with Vice President Mike Pence this morning about the failed flight test, who he said remained positive about eventually reaching the goal of “American astronauts on American rockets from American soil.”
“I want to be clear, a lot of things went right and this is why we test,” Bridenstine said during a post-launch briefing Friday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida “Because we are now in orbit and, in fact, elevating orbit, we are going to get a lot more information in the coming days.”
The unmanned CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, which was designed at Boeing’s Space Exploration division in Houston, rocketed without issue from the space launch complex at Cape Canaveral, Fla., at 5:36 a.m. Central time atop a United Launch Alliance-built Atlas V Rocket. The Starliner was carrying about 600 pounds of crew supplies and equipment — including Christmas presents for the International Space Station crew — and was scheduled to dock with the space station Saturday morning.
The Atlas rocket successfully carried Starliner into space, where the capsule was to ignite its own engines and go into orbit before docking with the space station.
Shortly after Starliner’s launch, however, the spacecraft ran into trouble. The spacecraft separated from the rocket roughly 15 minutes after liftoff and was scheduled to fire its thrusters to put it into low-Earth orbit. The process that would have put Starliner on the correct orbital path to dock with the space station did not go as planned.
Bridenstine said an anomaly in the Starliner’s autonomous system led the spacecraft to misinterpret where it was in the flight, specifically the moment when its thrusters were supposed to fire. As a result, Starliner burned through too much propellant for it to be able to successfully dock with the space station.
NASA typically has contingency plans for situations like this, and flight control personnel at Johnson Space Center attempted to send a signal to the spacecraft to command it to get on the correct orbital path. That signal did not go through, and Bridenstine said it may have failed because the Starliner was at a point in its orbit where it was in between communication satellites.
Had astronauts been on board, it’s possible that the problem could have been addressed, Bridenstine said.
“If we would have had crew in there, number one, they would have been safe, and, in fact, had they been in there, we very well may be docking with the International Space Station tomorrow.”
Astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann were present at the post-launch briefing and said they “train extensively” for this type of contingency. Mann said they would have manually stopped the thrusters from firing and entered the process to get on the right orbital path.
“We have the capability on board to stop automation and take over manually to fly,” Mann said.
Starliner will continue on its current orbital path for roughly 48 hours before making its descent via parachute and landing at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
“Without knowing exactly what’s 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 what’s going on,” said Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing’s space and launch division.
For Boeing, the failed Starliner flight test comes after years of delays — the first crewed launch was initially planned for late 2017. It’s also a tumultuous time for the company. On Monday, Boeing announced that it would suspend production of its 737 Max airplane, which has been grounded worldwide since March after two fatal crashes.
Prior to Friday’s launch, NASA and Boeing officials had spoken optimistically about seeing their years of hard work come to fruition with a successful flight test and proving that it was up to the challenge of eventually sending astronauts into space on an American rocket.
Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft has been ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station since 2011, when the space shuttle program was shuttered. NASA pays Russia $82 million per seat for a ride on the Soyuz and is currently negotiating with Roscosmos, the country’s space agency, about purchasing additional seats for flights in the fall of 2020 and possibly the spring of 2021 — a contingency plan of sorts in case the American rockets are not ready to carry humans.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft has already cleared several safety hurdles, and it completed an unmanned flight test to the space station in March. According to NASA, SpaceX will conduct its in-flight abort test of the Crew Dragon no later than Jan. 4.
In a telling moment, Bridenstine mentioned the SpaceX and Boeing spacecrafts are designed to be dissimilar enough that if one were to fail or have a setback, the other could step in as a solution. He added “there very well could be other (commercial) providers that get on-ramped in the future.”
Keith Cowing, editor of NASA Watch, a website devoted to space news, said Bridenstine passing on giving Boeing an explicit vote of confidence could be a sign of fraying behind the scenes between the space agency and one of its longtime contractors.
The Washington Post recently reported that Bridenstine publicly downplayed Boeing’s efforts to force the agency to fast-track a second stage of its long-delayed Space Launch System rocket for a planned return to the Moon in 2024, saying, “It’s just not going to be ready.”
“It just seems to be that Boeing keeps having issues and they keep trying to spin it in a way that they’ve been called out on more than once,” Cowing said.
With the Boeing flight test curtailed, it is unclear when or if another one will happen. Bridenstine said it is “too early to know” whether another orbital flight test will be scheduled or if NASA will allow Boeing to proceed with a planned crewed flight test. Boeing is still planning to refurbish the Starliner spacecraft once it lands.
Bridenstine did note that the space shuttle missions were all crewed “since day one,” and said he would have no qualms sending astronauts on a crewed flight test provided the Starliner anomaly is fixed.
“I want to make sure that we understand what the challenges were that we just had and get those fixed and make sure there’s not some large systematic problem,” Bridenstine said.
- SpaceX's recycled Dragon spacecraft reaches space station
- International Space Station Narrowly Avoids Space Junk Collision
- Unmanned rocket bound for International Space Station explodes
- Everything you need to know about the Chinese space station falling to Earth
- Out of control Chinese space station to hit the earth in coming weeks
- Xinhua Headlines: Bidding farewell to Tiangong-2, China prepares for space station
- Success! Space station snags SpaceX Dragon capsule
- Boeing Partners to Launch Space Tourism Flights
- Progress Spacecraft Docks with International Space Station
- In bittersweet farewell, Atlantis leaves space station
- Soyuz blasts off for space station with three-man crew
- Spacecraft, Crew Members Arrive at International Space Station
- Discovery joins space station despite radar glitch
- Russian Rocket Crash Could Soon Leave Space Station Empty
- SpaceX Cargo Run to Space Station is a Go for May 7
- Shuttle Endeavour Docks at International Space Station
- NASA Releases First Pic of Shuttle Docked at Space Station
- Discovery Undocks from Space Station One Final Time
- 3 Soyuz Astronauts Blast Off for Space Station
- Spy satellite SpaceX launched might buzz the space station
Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft will not dock with space station due to software issue have 1544 words, post on www.chron.com at December 20, 2019. This is cached page on Movie News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.