Investing in Space

NASA investigation finds 61 corrective actions for Boeing after failed Starliner spacecraft mission

Key Points
  • Boeing said the investigation found about 61 "corrective actions" for the company's Starliner spacecraft, which it has been developing to fly NASA astronauts.
  • "This was a close call ... we could have lost a spacecraft twice during this mission," NASA associate administrator Doug Loverro said.
  • Boeing already has funds set aside to do another test flight, as it took a $410 million charge specific to the Starliner program in the fourth-quarter.
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Here's what went wrong with the Boeing Starliner spacecraft

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's investigation into Boeing's failed December spaceflight came up with a long list of corrections needed before the company flies again.

Boeing said Friday that the investigation found about 61 "corrective actions" for the company's Starliner spacecraft, which it has been developing to fly NASA astronauts. NASA associate administrator Doug Loverro told reporters on a conference call that he expects it "will take several months" for Boeing to work through the list.

"This was a close call. We could have lost a spacecraft twice during this mission," Loverro said.

The 61 recommendations are not each individual problems with the spacecraft, Boeing said, as there are three primary technical and design issues that the company is addressing. However, Loverro noted that does not mean there are only three problems with Starliner. He said there are more issues, although he wasn't sure of a specific number identified by investigators.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on an unmanned orbital flight test mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on December 20, 2019 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
NurPhoto

The aerospace giant planned to fly NASA astronauts on Starliner this year. In December, Boeing conducted what was supposed to be one of the spacecraft's last tests. But the craft did not dock with the space station after a software issue during the launch caused Starliner's autonomous flight-control system to misfire, putting Starliner in the wrong orbit.

The key unknown remains whether NASA will require Boeing redo the orbital test flight, as the company previously expected its next flight would have astronauts on board. But, although the investigation is complete, neither the agency or Boeing were confident about when the next test flight will happen.

"Will we require a second OFT? Quite frankly, we don't know," Loverro said. "We are still a way away from that, so I can't even give you an idea of schedule."

Regardless, Boeing already has funds set aside to do another test flight.The company revealed during its fourth-quarter results on Jan. 29 that it took a $410 million charge, in case another uncrewed flight is determined necessary.

"Boeing stands ready to repeat," Boeing senior vice president Jim Chilton said.

In the meantime, NASA said it will embed more software experts into Boeing's Starliner team, to try to help correct the issues found. The agency in January said Boeing would review about one million lines of software code after the company disclosed a second software issue that could have been catastrophic.

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