The maiden flight of the Boeing Starliner spacecraft suffered an off-nominal insertion after it’s boosters failed to ignite. Although the anomaly was later rectified and the burn completed, the impact on the mission was too severe for the spacecraft to be able to continue on to the International Space Station (ISS).
Boeing’s Starliner Orbital Flight Test was launched aboard an Atlas V at 11:36 UTC from Cape Canaveral this morning. Following a successful launch, the uncrewed spacecraft was deployed into a sub-orbital trajectory. It was expected to then fire its boosters to raise its orbit and rendezvous with the ISS. However, this burn did not occur as planned.
According to a Tweet from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, the off-nominal insertion was a result of an anomaly that caused the spacecraft to “believe that it was in an orbital insertion burn when it was not.”
Following several anxious minutes, Boeing confirmed that ground controllers had managed to remotely fix the problem and perform an orbital insertion burn. However, moments later, Bridenstine revealed that due to the anomaly, Starliner was forced to burn more fuel than anticipated. As a result, the spacecraft will not be able to rendezvous with the ISS tomorrow as planned.
With Starliner unable to rendezvous with the ISS, the spacecraft has been placed into an orbit that will enable it to return to White Sands in New Mexico. “The orbit we are in today, the reason we picked it and put it there, is that allows us to return to White Sands in 48 hours,” said Jim Chilton, Senior Vice President of Boeing’s Space and Launch Division during a post-launch press conference.