Boeing's CST-100 Starliner in wrong orbit after maiden launch

James Marshall
May 5, 2020

Flying without a crew on board, Boeing's CST-100 Starliner touched down at 5:58am MST, making it the first-ever on-land landing of a US-made spacecraft.

The Atlas V will head northeast from Cape Canaveral, potentially providing glimpses of the rocket to coastal folks all the way up through New England, according to a visibility map tweeted out by ULA.

If a launch abort test goes well next month, SpaceX could start launching NASA astronauts by spring and end a almost nine-year gap in flying people from Cape Canaveral. Once they fired, they burned more fuel than anticipated, putting a rendezvous with the ISS out of reach. The spacecraft will begin its de-orbit burn at 7:23 AM EST if all goes to plan, and NASA will begin a live broadcast of the entire landing attempt starting at 6:45 AM EST (3:45 AM PST) on Sunday morning if you want to tune in to the stream embedded below. NASA and Boeing officials said they were still studying the state of the spacecraft and determining what test objectives they could carry out before deciding whether to land on December 22 or stay in orbit for a longer mission.

As the company scrambled to understand what happened, NASA canceled the Starliner's docking with the International Space Station, instead of focusing on a hastier than planned return to Earth.

Despite the failure to dock, the mission would still harvest "an enormous amount of data", Bridenstine said, including information from an anthropomorphic model human packed with sensors called Rosie the Rockeeter.

One hour after landing, NASA and Boeing held a news conference at NASA Johnson Space Center with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing's Space and Launch Division, and Steve Stich, deputy manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. Currently, Starliner is in a stable orbit, and will return to White Sands on Sunday.

"We tested a majority of the core system of the vehicle". However, if the company can hit its schedule, Boeing could conceivably beat SpaceX and become the first aerospace company to take NASA astronauts into space from American soil since 2011.

Boeing and rival USA company SpaceX are independently developing systems to launch astronauts into space from the USA following the Space Shuttle's 2011 retirement.

The test flight was a key part of NASA's plans to end USA dependence on Russian Federation for space rides.

It was a major setback for Boeing, which had been hoping to catch up with SpaceX, NASA's other commercial crew provider that successfully completed a similar demonstration last March. One of their craft exploded last April during a test firing.

SpaceX is now prepping for an in-flight abort (IFA) test in January, which will showcase Crew Dragon's ability to get out of harm's way in the event of a launch emergency. "We like to think that, had we been on board, we could have given the flight control team more options on what to do in this situation". Test flights are part of the business, and the fact that some tests find flaws means they're working as intended.

"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. "We're trying to get all of the bugs, if you will, out of the system", said Fincke at the briefing.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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