Boeing finally moved forward with the initial un-crewed test launch of its Starliner Commercial Crew spacecraft for NASA at the end of this past week following months’ worth of hype and excitement. Unfortunately, Starliner didn’t quite perform as expected, and the spacecraft is now slated to return to Earth early after what could only be described as a botched launch attempt.
Image Credit: Boeing/NASA/YouTube
After lifting off from a launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, Boeing’s Starliner capsule was expected to remain in space for just over a week before returning to Earth and demonstrating its advanced airbag and parachute hybrid landing system. Everything seemed to go smoothly until around half-an-hour later when Boeing broke the news of trouble with the spacecraft’s orbital insertion.
From what we can gather, something was off with the spacecraft’s clock, resulting in an incorrect orbit for a planned docking with the International Space Station. Although Starliner’s orbit was stable per Boeing, the spacecraft had already burned too much of its thruster fuel to correct the problem. Consequently, Boeing was compelled to make the tough decision to end the demonstration mission early.
A video of the launch was streamed by both Boeing and NASA and can be seen below:
The Starliner spacecraft was carrying a dummy astronaut dressed in a fancy new space suit and a plethora of fresh food and supplies for astronauts already at the International Space Station. Instead of delivering those goods over the weekend, the spacecraft will now return directly to Earth as Boeing hangs its head in shame and contemplates a demonstration mission reattempt.
A video showing the live feed from the landing this weekend can be viewed here:
SpaceX, Boeing’s competitor in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, already succeeded with its first demonstration mission after the Dragon capsule docked with the International Space Station. A while later, however, Dragon endured a smoky anomaly during a controlled thruster test. SpaceX has purportedly rectified the cause of this anomaly, but the commercial space company still needs to demonstrate the safety of Dragon’s landing system.
Boeing hasn’t commented on when a Starliner launch reattempt may transpire, but if anything’s obvious, it’s that this failure doesn’t bode well for the company. The latest botch comes after bad press following Boeing’s 737 Max jet airplane crash catastrophes, which resulted in 346 deaths. Boeing has since become greatly unconfident in its 737 Max platform and is now talking about removing all of them from the skies for safety.
While recent events are certainly unfortunate for Boeing and NASA alike, the latter’s Jim Bridenstine appears confident that Boeing will figure things out and get back on track for a new demonstration launch in the near future. SpaceX, on the other hand, could beat Boeing to the punch as it prepares to finalize plans for a landing demonstration and deploy astronauts from American soil for the first time since the Space Shuttle era.