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article imageNASA weighing a repeat of uncrewed Boeing Starliner test flight

By Karen Graham     Jan 9, 2020 in Technology
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.
We're going to need to wait a while longer for a crewed demonstration mission to the ISS by the Boeing CST-100 Starliner capsule. About 30 minutes after a successful launch on December 20, Boeing announced on Twitter it had an "off-nominal insertion," indicating the procedure to even out its orbit had not gone as planned.
The demonstration mission, called an Orbital Flight Test (OFT) was supposed to last eight days and included a docking/undocking sequence. However, a glitch on Starliner's onboard timing system put the elapsed time off by 11 hours, causing the spacecraft to think it was in the wrong phase of its mission.
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 Starliner had used too much fuel to allow it to dock at the space station. The spacecraft instead landed safely at White Sands, New Mexico, Dec. 22.
The Atlas V rocket carrying the Starliner capsule lifted off normally from Cape Canaveral  Florida  ...
The Atlas V rocket carrying the Starliner capsule lifted off normally from Cape Canaveral, Florida, but a clock problem prevented the capsule from reaching the International Space Station
NASA has formed an investigative team to determine what caused the timer glitch and "any other software issues." The probe, which may last as long as two months will also provide any "corrective actions" that need to be taken before Starliner can fly a crew of astronauts for the first time, according to CBC Canada.
One of the key requirements in the OFT mission was a demonstration of the Starliner's ability to dock and undock successfully from the ISS. NASA is mulling over whether to have Boeing repeat the OFT, adding this would add tens of millions of dollars to the cost, besides the additional delay involved.
"NASA is evaluating the data received during the mission to determine if another uncrewed demonstration is required. This decision is not expected for several weeks as teams take the necessary time for this review," Bridenstine wrote, reports
Starliner spacecraft mission
Starliner spacecraft mission
Laurence CHU, AFP
"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," he added.
In what may sound like an attempt to cut corners, Space News is reporting that according to the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract that NASA awarded to Boeing - an uncrewed test flight that included docking was required. However, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine suggested at a post-landing briefing Dec. 22 that NASA might not hold Boeing to that requirement.
Crew Dragon aced its version of OFT, the uncrewed Demo-1, in March of last year. SpaceX is now gearing up for a crucial in-flight test of the capsule's emergency-escape system, which is targeted for Jan. 18. If that test goes well, Crew Dragon would be pretty much cleared for Demo-2, a test mission that will fly NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to and from the ISS.
More about CST100 Starliner, flight test, uncrewed, timing anomaly, dockingundocking
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