Boeing acknowledges shortcomings in Starliner spaceship testing and vows to fill the gaps

Starliner study
Engineers inspect the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft that went through a less-than-perfect test flight in December. (Boeing Photo)

The program manager for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner space taxi acknowledges that more rigorous testing might have turned up the software glitch that spoiled plans to rendezvous with the International Space Station during an uncrewed test flight in December.

  • John Mulholland, vice president and program manager for Starliner, said during today’s teleconference with reporters that his team “did an extensive amount of testing” in advance of launch, but didn’t run an integrated, end-to-end test to simulate the mission from launch to docking with the station. Instead, engineers divided the simulation into separate “chunks” to avoid a computer run that could have lasted more than 25 hours straight, he said.
  • In hindsight, an end-to-end test might have turned up the timing glitch that led the Starliner’s software to miss a crucial thruster firing, Mulholland said. From now on, Boeing will run a complete launch-to-docking simulation and a complete docking-to-landing simulation before every Starliner flight, he said.
  • Mulholland also said the spacecraft experienced 36 communication dropouts over a region of northern Europe and Russia. None of those dropouts lasted longer than a few minutes, but Mulholland said Boeing will try to optimize the system’s performance going forward. Boeing and NASA are due to discuss the outcome of an independent review team’s investigation in greater detail on March 6. Eventually, Boeing plans to fly astronauts to and from the space station on Starliner under the terms of a multibillion-dollar NASA contract.

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