Feb 7, 2020 - Science

Boeing's troubled Starliner mission could have been much worse

Boeing's uncrewed Starliner back on Earth after flight. Photo: NASA

A December flight test of Boeing's Starliner may have ended in the loss of the uncrewed spacecraft if major software problems weren't caught during the mission, NASA said Friday.

Why it matters: Boeing is expected to start flying NASA astronauts to the International Space Station on Starliner this year, but the test flight issues could push back Boeing's first crewed flight.

Details: The uncrewed Starliner was expected to dock with the space station after its launch on Dec. 20, but a software issue involving a timer onboard the craft prevented the two from connecting, forcing Starliner to come back to Earth days early, on Dec. 22.

  • In addition to the timer problem, a NASA and Boeing investigation team found another software issue corrected during the mission could have caused a major malfunction during the test flight had it not been caught.
  • "The team found the two critical software defects were not detected ahead of flight despite multiple safeguards," NASA said in a statement. "Ground intervention prevented loss of vehicle in both cases."

The intrigue: NASA is also going to perform a safety assessment focused on Boeing's Starliner work and management.

  • "The comprehensive safety review will include individual employee interviews with a sampling from a cross section of personnel, including senior managers, mid-level management and supervision, and engineers and technicians at multiple sites," NASA said.

What's to watch: NASA and Boeing are expected to complete their investigation by the end of the month.

  • The agency will also decide whether Boeing will need to re-do an uncrewed test before flying astronauts for the first time.

Go deeper: Boeing's Starliner lands back on Earth after troubled mission

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Northrop Grumman sends cheese and sweets to International Space Station

A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket, with Cygnus resupply spacecraft onboard, launches on Feb. 15. Photo: Aubrey Gemignani/NASA via Getty Images

Defense contractor and aerospace giant Northrop Grumman successfully launched its 13th supply run to the International Space Station on Saturday afternoon, which included cheese and candy for station astronauts.

Details: The launch followed multiple mission attempts this week that were foiled due to bad weather and launch pad equipment concerns, per AP. The Cygnus NG-13 launch at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia is carrying nearly 7,500 pounds of hardware, crew supplies and research, per NASA.

Go deeper: NASA looks to private companies to help commercialize low-Earth orbit

New Boeing CEO criticizes predecessor, looks to future

David Calhoun. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Boeing's new CEO David Calhoun criticized his predecessor Dennis Muilenburg for failing to get the company back on track following two deadly 737 Max crashes, during an interview with The New York Times.

"I'll never be able to judge what motivated Dennis, whether it was a stock price that was going to continue to go up and up, or whether it was just beating the other guy to the next rate increase. If anybody ran over the rainbow for the pot of gold on stock, it would have been him."
— Boeing CEO David Calhoun

Axiom and SpaceX plan to launch private crew to International Space Station

Artist's illustration of Axiom Space's private space station. Photo: Axiom Space

Axiom Space, a company aiming to operate the first commercial space station in orbit, is planning to fly a crew of private citizens to the International Space Station (ISS) as early as next year using SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule.

Why it matters: The announcement comes as NASA is working to expand commercial operations on the space station. These kinds of space tourism flights are expected to be a big part of that.

Go deeperArrowMar 6, 2020 - Science