NASA Shares Initial Findings from Boeing Starliner Orbital Flight Test Investigation

Boeing, NASA, and U.S. Army personnel work around the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft shortly after it landed in White Sands, New Mexico, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Following the anomaly that occurred during the December Boeing Starliner Orbital Fight Test (OFT), NASA and Boeing formed a joint investigation team tasked with examining the primary issues, which occurred during that test. Those issues included three specific concerns revealed during flight:

  1. An error with the Mission Elapsed Timer (MET), which incorrectly polled time from the Atlas V booster nearly 11 hours prior to launch.
  2. A software issue within the Service Module (SM) Disposal Sequence, which incorrectly translated the SM disposal sequence into the SM Integrated Propulsion Controller (IPC).
  3. An Intermittent Space-to-Ground (S/G) forward link issue, which impeded the Flight Control team’s ability to command and control the vehicle.

The joint investigation team convened in early January and has now identified the direct causes and preliminary corrective actions for the first two anomalies. The intermittent communications issues still are under investigation. NASA reviewed these results on Friday, Jan. 31 along with multiple suggested corrective actions recommended by the team. While NASA was satisfied that the team had properly identified the technical root cause of the two anomalies, they requested the team to perform a more in-depth analysis as to why the anomalies occurred, including an analysis of whether the issues were indicative of weak internal software processes or failure in applying those processes. The team is in the process of performing this additional analysis, as well as continuing the investigation of the intermittent communications issues. NASA briefed the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel on the status of the investigation this week.

Regarding the first two anomalies, the team found the two critical software defects were not detected ahead of flight despite multiple safeguards.  Ground intervention prevented loss of vehicle in both cases. Breakdowns in the design and code phase inserted the original defects. Additionally, breakdowns in the test and verification phase failed to identify the defects preflight despite their detectability. While both errors could have led to risk of spacecraft loss, the actions of the NASA-Boeing team were able to correct the issues and return the Starliner spacecraft safely to Earth.

There was no simple cause of the two software defects making it into flight. Software defects, particularly in complex spacecraft code, are not unexpected. 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.

The joint team made excellent progress for this stage of the investigation. However, it’s still too early for us to definitively share the root causes and full set of corrective actions needed for the Starliner system. We do expect to have those results at the end of February, as was our initial plan. We want to make sure we have a comprehensive understanding of what happened so that we can fully explain the root causes and better assess future work that will be needed. 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.

NASA and Boeing are committed to openly sharing the information related to the mission with the public. Thus, NASA will be holding a media teleconference at 3:30 p.m. EST Friday, Feb. 7.

In addition to these reviews, NASA is planning to perform an Organizational Safety Assessment of Boeing’s work related to the Commercial Crew Program. The comprehensive safety review will include individual employee interviews with a sampling from a cross section of personnel, including senior managers, mid-level management and supervision, and engineers and technicians at multiple sites. The review would be added to the company’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract. NASA previously completed a more limited review of the company. The goal of the Organizational Safety Assessment will be to examine the workplace culture with the commercial crew provider ahead of a mission with astronauts.

Boeing’s Orbital Flight test launched on Friday, Dec. 20, on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission successfully landed two days later on Sunday, Dec. 22, completing an abbreviated test that performed several mission objectives before returning to Earth as the first orbital land touchdown of a human-rated capsule in U.S. history.

Boeing CST-100 Starliner Back Home in Florida After Inaugural Flight

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is back home at the company's Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility, undergoing inspection after its first flight as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, known as the Orbital Flight Test. The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is back home at the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility, undergoing inspection after its first flight as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, known as the Orbital Flight Test.

Starliner launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida, Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. The mission successfully landed two days later on Sunday, Dec. 22, completing an abbreviated test that performed several mission objectives before returning to Earth as the first orbital land touchdown of a human-rated capsule in U.S. history.

Photo credit: NASA/Frank Michaux

NASA Update on Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test

Boeing, NASA, and U.S. Army personnel work around the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft shortly after it landed in White Sands, New Mexico, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

NASA and Boeing are in the process of establishing a joint, independent investigation team to examine the primary issues associated with the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test.

The independent team will inform NASA and Boeing on the root cause of the mission elapsed timer anomaly and any other software issues and provide corrective actions needed before flying crew to the International Space Station for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. The team will review the primary anomalies experienced during the Dec. 2019 flight test, any potential contributing factors and provide recommendations to ensure a robust design for future missions. Once underway, the investigation is targeted to last about two months before the team delivers its final assessment.

In parallel, 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. 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. 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.

The uncrewed flight test was proposed by Boeing as a way to meet NASA’s mission and safety requirements for certification and as a way to validate that the system can protect astronauts in space before flying crew. The uncrewed mission, including docking to the space station, became a part of the company’s contract with NASA. Although docking was planned, it may not have to be accomplished prior to the crew demonstration. Boeing would need NASA’s approval to proceed with a flight test with astronauts onboard.

Starliner currently is being transported from the landing location near the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range to the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility in Florida. Since landing, teams have safed the spacecraft for transport, downloaded data from the spacecraft’s onboard systems for analysis and completed initial inspections of the interior and exterior of Starliner. A more detailed analysis will be conducted after the spacecraft arrives at its processing facility.

Boeing’s Orbital Flight test launched on Friday, Dec. 20, on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission successfully landed two days later on Sunday, Dec. 22, completing an abbreviated test that performed several mission objectives before returning to Earth as the first orbital land touchdown of a human-rated capsule in U.S. history.

SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test Launch Date Update

SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft inside of a SpaceX processing facility at Cape Canaveral in Florida. Credit: SpaceX

NASA and SpaceX are targeting no earlier than Saturday, Jan. 18, for an In-Flight Abort Test of the Crew Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, pending U.S. Air Force Eastern Range approval. The new date allows additional time for spacecraft processing.

The demonstration of Crew Dragon’s in-flight launch escape system is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and is one of the final major tests for the company before NASA astronauts will fly aboard the spacecraft.

NASA, Boeing Complete Successful Landing of Starliner Flight Test

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft lands in White Sands, New Mexico, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019. Photo Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft completed the first land touchdown of a human-rated capsule in U.S. history Sunday at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico, wrapping up the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Starliner settled gently onto its airbags at 7:58 a.m. EST (5:58 a.m. MST) in a pre-dawn landing that helps set the stage for future crewed landings at the same site. The landing followed a deorbit burn at 7:23 a.m., separation of the spacecraft’s service module, and successful deployment of its three main parachutes and six airbags.

More details: https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-boeing-complete-successful-landing-of-starliner-flight-test

Tune in for Starliner Postlanding News Conference

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is seen after it landed in White Sands, New Mexico, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner landed safely this morning, concluding the company’s Orbital Flight Test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

NASA Astronaut Suni Williams, who will command the next mission of the Starliner that landed this morning, named this Orbital Flight Test capsule “Calypso.” The name is an ode to the ship of Jacques Cousteau and invokes the vastness of the sea and space. 

Tune into NASA TV for a postlanding news conference at 10:00 a.m. EST with:

  • NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine
  • Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing’s Space and Launch Division
  • Steve Stich, deputy manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program

Boeing CST-100 Starliner Lands Safely

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner moments after landing in White Sands, New Mexico

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner touched down safely at White Sands Space Harbor, New Mexico at 7:58 a.m. EST, concluding its Orbital Flight Test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Recovery teams are beginning work to retrieve Starliner this morning.

Infrared image of CST-100 Starliner touching down in White Sands, New Mexico

NASA and Boeing will host a postlanding news conference at 10 a.m. EST with:

  • NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine
  • Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing’s Space and Launch Division
  • Steve Stich, deputy manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program

To participate in the postlanding news conference via phone bridge, media must contact the newsroom at NASA’s Johnson Space Center at 281-483-5111 no later than 9:45 a.m. The news conference will air live on NASA TV and the agency’s website.

 

Boeing CST-100 Starliner Service Module Separation Confirmed

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner has separated from its service module. Drogue parachute deployment is expected at approximately 7:53 a.m. EST, with main parachutes deploying soon afterwards.

Tune in now for continuing live NASA TV coverage of the landing at White Sands Space Harbor, New Mexico.