A reflight beckons for Starliner as rival SpaceX admits: ‘Rockets are hard’
Boeing’s Starliner capsule
Roundup Boeing is to repeat December’s CST-100 test while Russia prepares for what might be the last launch of its space station taxi monopoly in this week’s wrangling of rocket news.
Boeing to refly Starliner
Troubled aviation giant Boeing has opted to have another crack at the Orbital Flight Test mission of its calamity capsule, Starliner.
Its first attempt went spectacularly wrong after a borked mission timer and buggy code led to a failure to dock with the International Space Station (ISS). A potential loss of vehicle was also dodged thanks to engineers not hurriedly patching code to avoid a possible “recontact” between Starliner and its service module ahead of re-entry.
As it turned out, the capsule landed safely after its truncated mission last December.
It had been looking increasingly likely that a reflight would be required as the level of borkery was revealed during investigation. Shoddy coding, iffy validation and a lack of end-to-end testing were all highlighted, and a charge taken against its earnings in January made a reflight of the mission look all the more likely, even though NASA insisted last month that no decision had been taken.
Hats off to Boeing for recommending a repeat of their Orbital Flight Test for the @Commercial_Crew program. Corporate responsibility takes many forms, and this is one of them. https://t.co/Qkl2JZ0WDd pic.twitter.com/0YyQg0RpIX
— Douglas Loverro (@DouglasLoverro) April 7, 2020
Douglas Loverro, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, tweeted his satisfaction at Boeing’s move, which the aeroplane maker said would involve a second Starliner vehicle and come “at no cost to the taxpayer”.
While there is no firm date for the reflight, it will likely come after SpaceX’s first crewed mission of its new Crew Dragon capsule, currently pencilled in for May. Should that be a success, operational missions of the capsule will likely follow.
Crumplesteelskin? It was a ‘configuration error’ that did for the latest Starship
The collapse of the stack had the simplest of causes – the top tank was too heavy, and there was not enough pressure below it to avoid the dread sound of crumpling metal.
Pretty much. Good news is that this was a test configuration error, rather than a design or build mistake. Not enough pressure in the LOX tank ullage to maintain stability with a heavy load in the CH4 tank. This was done with N2.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 5, 2020
Oops. Explaining that it was a new system and the gang had simply “commanded” SN3 “wrong”, Musk reminded fans that: “Rockets are hard.”
It was the fourth attempt that stayed up for Michael Palin’s King of Swamp Castle in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Hopefully the same will apply for SN4, the next Starship prototype.
One final hurrah for Dragon and the last time Russia gets to be the only ISS taxi?
The last of the first variant of Dragon freighters is due to depart the ISS today.
Loaded with gear, the spacecraft will be released at 13:15 UTC, ending a 29-day stay attached to the outpost. The CRS-20 mission will splash down in the Pacific, bringing with it experiments and cargo for processing on Earth.
Since the retirement of the Space Shuttle, SpaceX has been the only game in town when it comes to returning gear in any meaningful quantities. A few kilos can be squeezed onto a Soyuz, but it pales when compared to what the Shuttle was capable of.
The next Dragon to dock will be the crewed variant of the next generation of the spacecraft.
However, before the longed-for crewed flight from US soil can get under way, Russia’s workhorse Soyuz, currently at its Kazakhstan launch pad, will get to be the only means of ISS access one last time. Assuming all goes well for SpaceX in the coming weeks and months.
Soyuz MS-16, carrying NASA ‘naut Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos fliers Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, is due for launch on Thursday 9 April at 0805 UTC. The original cosmonauts were swapped for their backups in February due to medical issues.
The trio, expedition 63, will spend 195 days aboard the ISS. Current ISS commander Oleg Skripochka and NASA astronauts Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir are due to return to Earth on Soyuz MS-15 on 17 April. ®