Boeing plans to work with NASA to find out what happened during its first unmanned launch at the end of December, according tomedia outlet Abel. According to a NASA blog post, the two agencies will set up a joint “independent investigation team” that will take about two months to find out the underlying nature of the mission.
Starliner is a capsule developed by Boeing to deliver ISS astronauts to NASA in the future. Before the manned flight, the company decided to conduct a rehearsal mission, that is, unmanned flight. Starliner successfully launched an Atlas V rocket from Florida on December 20, local time.
But the spacecraft failed to reach ISS. A fault on the ship prevented it from igniting the engine at the right point in time. Eventually, the spacecraft went into the wrong orbit so that it didn’t have enough fuel to meet ISS. The test mission, as originally planned, took about a week, but Boeing decided to bring Starliner home early, just two days after its launch. On December 22, the spacecraft landed in White Sands, New Mexico, using its own parachute.
While NASA and Boeing appear to have first known what the problem is, the new team will drill down over the next few months to all the data collected during the mission and whether there are other factors contributing to the accident. According to NASA, once the investigation is complete, they may recommend changes to the spacecraft’s design.
At the same time, NASA officials must also determine how Boeing will move forward. The unmanned flight was designed to test Starliner’s performance and safety, including the key capabilities of the automatic docking station. Although Boeing’s spacecraft successfully completed the launch and landing mission, it failed to demonstrate its docking capabilities at the space station. By contrast, Boeing’s rival, SpaceX, has proven its ability to automatically dock the space station and safely return to Earth.
Perhaps NASA will ask Boeing to conduct a second unmanned flight test.
NASA says Boeing could make a decision on its next steps in the coming weeks. Boeing, meanwhile, is transporting the star, who landed in New Mexico, to the company’s plant in Florida, where it will undergo additional inspections.