Tag Archives: Starliner

A clock error spoiled NASA’s Christmas mission — but the craft just landed, safe and sound

Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule safely landed in the New Mexico desert on Sunday, after an internal clock error thwarted its mission of delivering presents and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Boeing Starliner spacecraft is seen after it landed in White Sands, N.M., Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019. Image credits Bill Ingalls / NASA via AP.

Although the mission itself was a bust, Boeing employees were relieved to get the Starliner back. Furthermore, the landing itself — the Starliner is the first American crew lander to land on the ground, not in the ocean — was a resounding success. The mission managers at NASA are currently reviewing data from the mission to decide whether they’ll run another test flight or go straight to manned missions, the agency reported.

A matter of time

“We pinpoint landed it,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said at a post-landing briefing.

“A beautiful soft landing,” added NASA astronaut Mike Fincke. “Can’t wait to try it out.”

The Starliner touched down at the Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in the predawn darkness on Sunday. It was scheduled for a week-long mission but only flew for two days. It was launched Friday from Cape Canaveral and all seemed to be going smoothly until, half an hour into its journey, the Starliner failed to fire its thrusters as scheduled. This burn was meant to put it on the same orbit as the ISS.

However, the capsule’s internal clock wasn’t set properly and showed an 11 hour difference with those on the Atlas V rocket that carried it, explained Jim Chilton, senior vice president of the Space and Launch division of Boeing. In the end, the Starliner set on a wrong orbit. Ground control had eventually managed to reset the clock — a process made difficult by frequent signal gaps due to the capsule’s position — but by this time the Starliner had used up so much fuel in an effort to reorient itself in orbit that it couldn’t reach the station any longer. So they decided to land the craft. The mission lasted nearly 50 hours and included 33 orbits around the Earth, about 100 orbits fewer than planned.

Boeing is still working to figure out how the timing error occurred. Right now, however, they’re relieved to have the capsule back in one piece. The landing was broadcast live on NASA TV, showing the craft fully upright and with very little wear and tear from reentry by dawn.

The astronauts assigned to the first Starliner crew, two from NASA and one from Boeing, were part of the welcoming committee. Rosie the Rocketer, a test dummy that flew in the capsule, survived the landing in perfect condition — as did the food, clothes, and presents inside. The returned capsule also received its name following the landing: Calypso, after Jacques Cousteau’s boat.

“We didn’t do everything we wanted to do, but we don’t see anything wrong with this spaceship right now,” despite the timing error, Chilton said.

He also apologized to the six space station residents on behalf of the company for not delivering their Christmas presents.

The capsule will return to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center in two weeks for inspections and refurbishments.

“We’ve got a lot of learning in front of us,” Bridenstine said. “But we have enough information and data to where we can keep moving forward in a very positive way.

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner. Credit: Boeing, Wikimedia Commons.

Boeing delays test flight for Starliner crew capsule

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner. Credit: Boeing, Wikimedia Commons.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner. Credit: Boeing, Wikimedia Commons.

Aerospace company Boeing announced earlier this week that it has re-scheduled the first orbital test flight of its commercial crew capsule, called the CST-100 Starliner. The test flight, which was supposed to occur in April, has been pushed back again to August.

Boeing said the decision to delay the test was made to avoid conflicts with the U.S. Air Force, which is scheduled to use the same launch pad around the same time for its Advanced Extremely High Frequency 5 military communications satellite. The Starliner spacecraft, which was designed and built under a $4.2 billion contract from NASA, was delayed last year when a June test of its emergency abort system revealed a propellant leak. A re-test of the capsule’s abort engines at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico is planned in the coming months. That will be followed by a pad abort test sometime this summer.

“In order to avoid unnecessary schedule pressure, not interfere with a critical national security payload, and allow appropriate schedule margin to ensure the Boeing, United Launch Alliance and NASA teams are able to perform a successful first launch of Starliner, we made the most responsible decision available to us and will be ready for the next launch pad availability in August,” the company said.

Along with SpaceX, Boeing is under contract from NASA to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station. The Chicago-based company will fly their Starliner aboard United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket, the same one needed for the Air Force’s mission.

Originally slated for trips lasting no more than a couple of weeks to the ISS, NASA has announced that Boeing’s initial manned flight – creatively coined the Crew Flight Test — could be a long-duration one, lasting months. The manned test, which is expected to carry two NASA astronauts and Boeing test pilot Chris Ferguson, is expected in late 2019. The extended duration test flight offers NASA the opportunity to complete additional microgravity research, maintenance, and other activities while the company’s Starliner is docked to the station. The mission duration will be determined at a later date.

“NASA’s assessment of extending the mission was found to be technically achievable without compromising the safety of the crew,” said Phil McAlister, director of the commercial spaceflight division at NASA. “Commercial crew flight tests, along with the additional Soyuz opportunities, help us transition with greater flexibility to our next-generation commercial systems.”

Wearing NASA’s new Starliner space suit is reason enough to become an astronaut

Yesterday, NASA unveiled the new space suits astronauts will wear in the Boeing Starliner on their way to the ISS — and they’re icy cool.

Incidentally, they’re also icy-blue.

Image credits Boeing.

The suits were designed to be lighter, more comfortable, and less cumbersome than their earlier counterparts. The agency reports that the whole shebang weighs in at about 20 pounds (9 kg) with all accessories. That’s a full 33% lighter than the orange launch-and-entry suits you see astronauts wear on TV. Another feature bound to make crewmembers really happy is that the Starliner suits allow water vapor to pass through, away from the astronauts, while remaining airtight. No more stuffy suits!

A new architecture and material composition for the knee and elbow sections as well as re-vamped joint patterns throughout the suit makes them much more flexible too. The helmet and visor are now part of the suit so you don’t have to worry about misplacing them. Several zippers can be pulled up or down to make the suit more form-fitting during sitting or walking. Finally, touchscreen-sensitive fingertips tie it all together.

Image credits Boeing.

But there’s only one thing you really need your space suit to do, and these blue babies definitely deliver:

“The most important part is that the suit will keep you alive,” astronaut Eric Boe said.

“It is a lot lighter, more form-fitting and it’s simpler, which is always a good thing. Complicated systems have more ways they can break, so simple is better on something like this.”

Astronauts have already had the chance to get a feel for their new threads inside a Starliner mock-up, to learn how best to use both. They repeatedly climbed in and out of the mock-up, interacted with all the buttons, screens, or knobs around, and of course tested the suits at that all important space-going activity — sitting.

Houston, we have a-comfortable.
Image credits Boeing.

“The spacesuit acts as the emergency backup to the spacecraft’s redundant life support systems,” said Richard Watson, subsystem manager for spacesuits for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “If everything goes perfectly on a mission, then you don’t need a spacesuit. It’s like having a fire extinguisher close by in the cockpit. You need it to be effective if it is needed.”

These suits will keep the crew safe and comfy inside the spaceship, and on the ISS in case of emergency. The heavy duty outer-space suits (called extravehicular mobility units, or EMUs) are already on board the station. So between the cool new wearables, the awesome postables, and the ridiculously cool Mars recruitment campaign NASA has been spoiling us with lately, you’re probably dreaming of becoming an astronaut yourself.

Well dream no longer, because we’ve got you covered. Go get’em tiger!