Thursday, 02 April, 2020

Two critical software defects plagued Starliner test flight

NASA and Boeing lay out time frame for reviewing Starliner's flawed flight and planning next steps Boeings unmanned crew mission failure could've been catastrophic: NASA review panel
Sandy Nunez | 11 February, 2020, 18:23

If this issue had not been corrected mid-flight, a collision could have significantly damaged the crew module's heat shield. according to SpaceNews, Paul Hill, a member of NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, said at a meeting on Thursday that this could have led to "catastrophic spacecraft failure".

Until Friday's announcement and press briefing, Boeing and NASA had confirmed only one software error, which caused the capsule to miss a planned docking with International Space Station because Starliner did not reach the planned orbital height.

The second problem was intermittent space-to-ground communications, impeding the flight control team's ability to command and control the vehicle. "The panel has a larger concern with the rigor of Boeing's verification processes".

This latest blunder is far more serious, as is displayed by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine's actions, which were to hold a media teleconference detailing some of the Starliner's issues before NASA and Boeing's investigative review team had finished their assessment of the flight. Frankly, this uncovered an additional issue- The software in charge of controlling thruster firings required for safely jettison the service module of the Starliner was also poorly configured and set for the wrong phase of flight. The Service Module (SM) Disposal Sequence was incorrectly translated into the SM Integrated Propulsion Controller (IPC). "What would have resulted from that is unclear".

"We are already working on numerous recommended fixes including re-verifying flight software code", Boeing said in a statement, adding that it believes its engineers have found the cause of one of the software issues and have recommended to NASA corrective actions. The team is also making "significant progress" on resolving communications dropouts that exacerbated problems early in the test flight.

Boeing said January 30 that, while no decision had been made yet about performing a second uncrewed test flight, it was taking a $410 million charge against its earnings in part to cover the costs of a second uncrewed flight.

The investigation team is continuing to look at the root causes of the mission failures and expects to have a more definite idea of what happened and how to prevent it by the end of the month.

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An investigation launched following the anomalous Starliner Orbital Flight Test has called for an Organisational Safety Assessment of Boeing.

According to the report, Boeing and Elon companies building space taxis to astronauts to the station separately in an effort of NASA to revive the human spaceflight program. NASA, while completing the SpaceX review, deferred the Boeing one, reportedly because of cost issues.

"In all, NASA says its evaluation of this assignment has discovered" 11 top-priority corrective actions" for Boeing.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing's Starliner spacecraft onboard is viewed as it's rolled out.

"We want to assure that these necessary steps are completely understood prior to determining the plan for future flights", NASA said. "Once NASA approves that plan, we will be able to better estimate timelines for the completion of all tasks. It remains too soon to speculate about next flight dates".

The panel is still finishing its own review of the mission and craft.