Boeing Starliner likely needs new test flight to prove NASA mission readiness

Space Science
Boeing Starliner

The Boeing Starliner capsule lands in the New Mexico desert Sunday morning. (NASA)

MYSTERY WIRE — Boeing’s Starliner program is getting expensive for the company at a time when officials are shelving other programs that have been a financial burden.

A Dec. 20 Starliner test, expected to be its last one before taking astronauts to space, fell short of its target orbit because of a problem with a clock. The problem was fixed while Starliner was in flight, but it was too late to achieve the orbit it needed to dock with the International Space Station.

Since that incident, engineers analyzing the clock problem have found that if it had not been fixed in flight, there could have been catastrophic consequences. Thrusters could have unexpectedly fired later in the mission.

Anomalies from the December test were discussed Friday in a teleconference. The investigation is continuing. While no final decision has been reached, it appears another uncrewed test will be scheduled. NASA’s Jim Bridenstein described the step to talk about these problems while they are still being examined as “very unusual:”

Space.com has a full report:

READ: Boeing’s Starliner test flight had a 2nd critical software issue, NASA panel finds

Boeing is on board if NASA requires a new test flight, although it will cost the company in excess of $400 million. Boeing recently canceled a program for a military space plane known as the Phantom Express due to rising costs.

“The charge is intended to cover not only the cost of another flight test,” according to a Boeing statement on its Starliner website, “but also the anomaly investigation and corrective action implementation, program disruptions and other work outside the scope of normal program operational costs post-OFT (orbital flight test).”

Competitor SpaceX has fared better lately, but delays have been a problem for SpaceX and Boeing. NASA embarked years ago on developing commercial alternatives to their own rocket launches, and 2020 looks to be the year it actually begins using private-sector solutions.

If that doesn’t work out, the expensive and politically embarrassing solution remains paying for seats on Russian Soyuz missions.

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