Boeing said it can consider a second uncrewed Starliner test flight before its first flight with astronauts if NASA gives the approval. While SpaceX seems to have moved past its issues from previous year, Boeing is still addressing the failed test flight from December.
Investigators found "fundamental" problems with the company's software that could have led to a disastrous outcome more grievous than previously known, the U.S. space agency said on Friday.
Artist's concept of the Starliner service module (top) separating from the Starliner crew module before re-entry.
The timer error on Starliner was discovered by ground controllers during the flight and corrected while the spacecraft was still aloft, but panel member Paul Hill said the consequences of the error would have been grave if it had gone unnoticed. In addition, damage to the Starliner's heat shield could have caused the capsule to burn up on reentry, he noted.
Boeing officials said Friday the communications issues were likely caused by frequency interference from cell towers on the ground.
An investigation launched following the anomalous Starliner Orbital Flight Test has called for an Organisational Safety Assessment of Boeing.
The Starliner report was issued the day after a NASA safety panel disclosed the second software glitch, which wasn't discovered until hours before the CST-100 Starliner's descent and landing december 22 in New Mexico.
Both partners also stressed that the launch, which did result in a successful Starliner re-entry and landing in White Sands, N.M., accomplished a number of planned tests despite not making it to the ISS.
"Boeing is as committed as ever to safe flight, mission assurance and helping our customer meet its crew transportation needs", the company said, pledging to spend $410 million to put Starliner "in position to support another flight should that mission be deemed necessary, while limiting the schedule impact on beginning regular Starliner service missions to the space station".
The fixes will require "systemic corrective actions", NASA said in a statement ahead of the briefing, with Loverro saying that "numerous process escapes" existed during which both NASA and Boeing could have uncovered the defects.
"We are 100% committed to transparency", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters during a teleconference. "Our NASA oversight was insufficient". And I think that's good learning for us. At that very moment, the flight control team was prevented from communicating with the spacecraft, and therefore lost control over it momentarily. The two organizations will decide on whether or not to actually conduct this second test by the end of February.
Although the issue was fixed before any mishap could occur, this revelation has led the experts to express concern over Boeing's lackluster safety record. How these issues will affect Boeing as a company remain to be seen.
A second private company is on track to launch astronauts for NASA as early as this spring.
NASA astronauts have not launched from home soil since the space shuttle program ended in 2011, instead riding Russian rockets to get to the space station.
NASA has been paying billions of dollars to Boeing and SpaceX to develop capsules capable of transporting astronauts to and from the space station.