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In what was supposed to be Boeing spacecraft Starliner's final test before it flies NASA astronauts to space, the rocketship failed to achieve the proper orbit necessary to make it to the International Space Station.
In an update, NASA said that despite a successful launch 20 December at 6:36 a.m. EST from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the rocket is "not in its planned orbit" and is "currently is in a stable configuration while flight controllers are troubleshooting."
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An anomaly caused spacecraft to think it was in an orbital burn
NASA went on to say that the team is ascertaining what test objectives can be achieved before returning the spacecraft to land in White Sands, New Mexico.
On Twitter NASA head Jim Bridenstine said an anomaly caused the spacecraft to think it was in an orbital insertion burn which wasn't the case. He went on to explain that because the Starliner thought it was in an orbital insertion burn the spacecraft burned more fuel than was needed to maintain control.
Update: #Starliner had a Mission Elapsed Time (MET) anomaly causing the spacecraft to believe that it was in an orbital insertion burn, when it was not. More information at 9am ET: https://t.co/wwsfqqvLN7— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) December 20, 2019
Because #Starliner believed it was in an orbital insertion burn (or that the burn was complete), the dead bands were reduced and the spacecraft burned more fuel than anticipated to maintain precise control. This precluded @Space_Station rendezvous.— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) December 20, 2019
Another delay in NASA's plans
This the latest delay for NASA in its quest to fly astronauts to the international space station. NASA had expected to send the first astronauts in 2017 but delays have plagued its efforts. The shuttle program was ended in 2011 and since then astronauts have hitched rides on Russian spacecraft. Both Boeing and SpaceX were awarded multi-billion contracts by NASA to develop spacecraft.
The Starliner debacle comes as Boeing continues to work to overcome the blowback from the crashes of its 737 Max commercial airlines that killed 346 people. The company is under scrutiny by various government agencies prompting it to announce earlier this month its halting production of the 737 Max through January if not longer.