Thursday, July 22, 2021

Boeing's Next Starliner Test is Next Friday

Next Friday, July 30th at 2:53 PM EDT, Boeing's complete re-do of their disastrous uncrewed Starliner mission will start.  Last Saturday, the capsule was mated with the Atlas V launch vehicle at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.  

Photo credit: Boeing/Damon Tucci

As with the flight in December '19, and SpaceX's equivalent mission nine months earlier in March of  '19, the mission is an end-to-end test flight to certify that their capsule is ready to fly astronauts to the ISS.  The ULA Atlas V will launch Starliner on a mission called Orbital Flight Test 2 (OFT-2) to autonomously rendezvous and dock to the International Space Station and then return about five to 10 days later to land in the western United States. 

For newcomers, NASA instituted the Commercial Crew program back in 2010 to eventually downselect to two suppliers who could fly crews to the ISS from the US instead of contracting the Russians to carry out those flights.  SpaceX and Boeing were eventually the two companies chosen to develop the spacecraft, with NASA paying Boeing $4.8 billion for Starliner and SpaceX $3.1 billion for the Crew Dragon spacecraft.  

As implied above, it was obvious from a few minutes after launch that the first OFT was not going well.  By the afternoon of the first day (launch was at 6:36 AM) it was known that Starliner would not be able to complete the mission because of a software error that caused the capsule to use too much propellant.  As the months went by, more and more information leaked out that indicated the flight went much worse than they originally let on, and that the mission had such severe, potentially catastrophic software issues that Boeing was very lucky to get the capsule back to land.

In mid-April, NASA's acting chief of human spaceflight issued a statement saying 

... I have decided to eliminate Boeing from further award consideration.

The week before, Boeing had said they were going to re-do the mission completely and pay for it themselves.  

I wish Boeing well, and will be watching.  They're an old-line company, infected with woke-ism and all that goes with it, but the guys I've known and worked with there were good guys.  On the other hand, if the guys I knew had worked on the first test flight, it would have been successful. 


  1. And the pilot's name is Jaime Jimenez...

  2. I won't place any bets that Boeing can do it. SpaceX outclasses them at every turn.

  3. I do wish Boeing luck, but I fear their role in life is to be a woke punchline.

  4. All of Boeing's programmers are Indians now, not Americans. They've been having programming problems across the board since they immigration-outsourced.

  5. Having worked in Boeing research for 30 years, your last sentence was poignant and painful. McChuck is correct. The software engineering skillbase was the first to go. The only way I was able to keep working was to let my software take on the mantle of just another tool to get the job done -- rather than the primary part of the wizardry that made it work.

    In the early part of my career, at Boeing and at Sperry, algorithms and software (real time and otherwise) were recognized as the magic that made it all possible, and good software engineers were revered and taken care of.

    No longer.

  6. So sad to see Mother Boeing having a case of Arterial Sclerosis, but it happens to us all as we get older. I'm glad I retired in 2013. The overemphasis on all the HR-Type training we got the last few years was ridiculous.

    I wish them well, but it's a coin-toss, unless they called back a bunch of us Graybeards, which they've been known to do.