CAPE CANAVERAL (CBSMiami) – Trouble for Boeing’s new Starliner capsule Friday. After a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket successfully boosted the capsule into orbit for an unpiloted maiden test flight, there were problems with a subsequent on-board rocket firing.
The capsule ended up off course and in a lower-than-planned orbit, which prevented a planned rendezvous with the International Space Station.
“Despite launching successfully at 6:36 a.m. EST Friday on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is not in its planned orbit,” NASA said in a brief statement. “The spacecraft currently is in a stable configuration while flight controllers are troubleshooting.”
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine later tweeted the Starliner mistakenly “believed it was in an orbital insertion burn (or that the burn was complete) … the spacecraft burned more fuel than anticipated to maintain precise control. This precluded @Space_Station rendezvous.”
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Flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston were in contact with the Starliner and reported they were able to control the capsule’s orientation.
The company is now working to bring the spacecraft back to the ground, NASA and Boeing officials said during a press conference Friday morning.
The current plan is to de-orbit Starliner in two days, and it’ll touch down at Boeing’s designated landing site in the desert of New Mexico, the officials said.
Officials still don’t know what went wrong.
Starliner was scheduled to dock with the space station over the weekend, mimicking the flight path it will take when it flies its first crewed mission.
Aboard the capsule is a dummy nicknamed Rosie, after the iconic World War II figure Rosie the Riveter, which is outfitted with dozens of sensors to measure the G-forces astronauts will endure.
Bridenstine had said Thursday that he expected the vehicle to be ready for its first crewed mission in “the first part” of next year.
It’s not yet clear if that timeline has shifted and what further testing the spacecraft may need after Friday’s mishap.
It’s also unclear whether Starliner will be the first US spacecraft to launch NASA astronauts since the Space Shuttle program was retired in 2011. Billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX is also racing for that distinction.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule completed a successful uncrewed test flight to the ISS earlier this year. But it still must pass another test of the capsule’s emergency abort system before it’s ready to fly. That mission is scheduled for no earlier than January 11.