Boeing returned its Starliner crew capsule back in New Mexico after it attempted a first flight to the International Space Station (ISS) and failed. The issue is now affecting the company’s schedule to launch NASA astronauts in space starting with next year.
The Starliner spacecraft landed in the Army’s White Sands Missile Range in the evening, ending a demo that took only two days, instead of at least a week, as it was programmed. The failure was evident, but Mission Control called the landing successful.
The First Boeing Capsule Failed
Starliner was the first U.S. capsule created for astronauts to return from orbit and touchdown on Earth. Another capsule, SpaceX‘s Dragon, which made its debut last year, is the other vehicle being prepared for a crewed mission.
The capsule’s flight began from Cape Canaveral on Friday, but after minutes in the atmosphere, it failed to fire its thrusters, which disabled it to reach the ISS but made it enter a wrong orbit. The issue, apparently, was with the Starliner’s internal software; it did not connect with the Atlas V rocket, which messed with the capsule’s timing.
Starliner burned an incredible amount of fuel while it tried to orient itself in orbit that there was nothing left to transport it to the space station. Flight controllers attempted to solve the issue, but their signals could not reach the vehicle. However, they managed to reset the clock later on. Boeing is still trying to understand how the error happened. The expedition lasted almost 50 hours and involved 33 orbits around our planet.
NASA is now not clear if it is a good choice to ask for another test flight from the company, which will include a space station visit, before allowing its astronauts on board. Boeing had been attempting for its first astronaut mission in the first part of 2020. The Starliner capsule is now supposed to be recycled for the forthcoming manned mission.
Traveling in Russian Rockets For Now
In spite of the obstacles it encountered, SpaceX is still the dominant party in NASA’s commercial crew project. SpaceX’s Dragon capsule fruitfully managed to complete its first orbital demonstration last year in March.
If a launch abort test performs well next month, SpaceX could start transporting NASA astronauts to space by spring. As its space shuttle project is curling up, NASA planned for a private company to conduct cargo and crew deliveries to the ISS. SpaceX had been transporting supplies to the space station ever since 2012, and two years later, NASA contracted both SpaceX and Boeing to carry astronauts to the orbiting lab. While SpaceX got only $2.6 billion to build the manned capsule, Boeing received more than $4 billion.
The target was to launch astronauts by 2017, but due to the delays, NASA is now trying to buy two other seats on Russian rockets for 2020 and 2021 to make sure an American astronaut is present at the space station at all times.
Over the years, these rides in the Russian rocket have cost NASA $86 million per ride, with the complete tab being billions of dollars.