SpaceX’s main rival just made a grotesque mistake.
The spaceship Boeing built to take astronauts to the International Space Station has just failed its first mission.
The uncrewed Starliner’s launch Friday morning seemed to have been perfect. But about 30 minutes after launch, the Boeing and NASA reported that the ship had lost its intended orbit – and now they are saying that it is the fault of automation.
Shortly after the failed mission, the NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine, tweeted that Starliner had experienced a “Mission Elapsed Time anomaly (TEM)”.
He said in a Press conference:
The anomaly caused the vehicle to believe that the time was different from what it really was and, and because that timing was a little bit off, what ended up happening is the spacecraft tried to maintain a very precise control that it normally wouldn’t have tried to maintain and it burned a lot of [propellant].
Boeing wrote in a declaration:
At this time, we do not expect the Starliner to dock at the International Space Station on this flight.
Bridenstine noted during the conference that the situation could have been quickly remedied had NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann, who are assigned to the first crewed Starliner mission, been onboard at the time.
This anomaly had to do with automation, and Nicole and Mike are trained specifically to deal with the situation that happened today where the automation was not working according to plan. Had they been in there, we very well may be docking with the International Space Station tomorrow.
He added that he’s not ruling out the possibility that the very next Starliner flight might include a crew.
As for the current mission, however, the Starliner is in a “safe and stable” orbit around the earth, and Boeing and NASA are focused on identifying any tests the spacecraft might perform prior to its planned New Mexico desert landing, which could happen as early as Sunday.