Published: Tue, February 11, 2020
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Software defects could have destroyed Boeing Starliner on test flight

Software defects could have destroyed Boeing Starliner on test flight

NASA convened a team to discuss the errors, Doug Loverro, a NASA associate administrator, stated during a call that: "They are likely only symptoms".

SpaceX is additionally getting its Crew Dragon space taxi through uncrewed tests in anticipation of flying space explorers.

The applications issues of Starliner comes as Boeing grapples with all the fallout from two fatal crashes of its own 737 Max commercial jetliner, arguably the most significant scandal in the business's history. During this investigation, the team identified three specific concerns.

Following Starliner's troubled Orbital Flight Test (OFT) mission late a year ago, a joint investigation team consisting of NASA and Boeing officials was established in January tasked with examining the primary issues that occurred during the test flight.

"Given the potential for systemic issues at Boeing, I would also note that NASA has made a decision to proceed with an organisational safety assessment with Boeing as they previously conducted with SpaceX", says chair of the safety panel, Patricia Sanders. Clearly, this is also at the top of NASA's mind. That could complicate efforts to land humans on the moon with systems that NASA purchases from the private sector. "And so, we want to understand what the culture is at Boeing, that may have led to that". That's obvious. We recognize that.

"While both errors could have led to risk of spacecraft loss, the actions of the NASA-Boeing team were able to correct the issues and return the Starliner spacecraft safely to Earth", says the statement by NASA.

That new software problem, not previously discussed by NASA or Boeing, was discussed during a February 6 meeting of NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel that examined the December uncrewed test flight of Starliner that was cut short by a timer error.

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According to NASA and Boeing in the Friday afternoon teleconference, the second software issue was caught just hours before it would have destroyed Starliner when it attempted to reenter the atmosphere.

When asked in the Friday telecon what role NASA should have played in ferreting out these issues in agency reviews of Boeing's software before flight, NASA representatives admitted that this is part of the investigation and that greater oversight and fixing the oversight errors present are needed. The Service Module (SM) Disposal Sequence was incorrectly translated into the SM Integrated Propulsion Controller (IPC).

NASA has big plans, and even though Boeing has been experiencing problems, NASA has not yet given up on them despite the Starlink Capsule's second failure.

The agency went on to note: "Ground intervention prevented loss of vehicle in both cases". The aerospace giant is one of two contractors, along with Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corp., hired by NASA develop new orbital vehicles to ferry astronauts back and forth from the International Space Station. The US has relied on Russian rockets to carry its crews to the space station since ending the Space Shuttle program in 2011.

Boeing took a $410 million charge to cover the cost of a second Starliner test flight if NASA deems one necessary before it allows astronauts to fly on the craft.

In January, NASA and Boeing convened an independent review team to investigate the Starliner's shortcomings.

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