Boeing officials have admitted that a lack of end-to-end testing of the software that controls the Starliner spacecraft was to blame for its anomalous maiden flight.
The maiden Starliner flight was launched on December 29, 2019, and ran into problems almost immediately. Boeing engineers had missed a pair of software errors that could have resulted in the destruction of the vehicle both during its launch and its reentry. Fortunately, engineers were able to resolve the problems remotely and the spacecraft returned to Earth safely having failed to rendevous with the International Space Station as planned.
During a call with reporters on February 28, John Mulholland, vice president and program manager of Commercial Crew Programs at Boeing admitted that more thorough testing would have uncovered the problems with the spacecraft’s software.
Mulholland explained that engineers had performed testing on chucks of Starliner code at a time. At no time did Boeing perform an end-to-end test of the entire system. Additionally, in many cases software was not tested on flight computers at all with stand-ins or emulators utilised instead.
Although the breakdown of Boeing’s missteps was seemingly damning, Mulholland attempted to reassure the public promising the company would redouble its efforts.
“We are recommitting ourselves to the discipline needed to test and qualify our products,” said Mulholland. “The Boeing team is committed to the success of the Starliner program, and we are putting in the time and the resources to move forward.”
It is currently unclear what will be required of Boeing moving forward. Despite failing to achieve many of the milestones set out by NASA for an uncrewed test flight, the agency had not yet indicated if Boeing will be required to perform a second uncrewed test. The final decision will likely only be made when the Joint NASA/Boeing investigation into the flight is completed.