Boeing Update on Starliner Flight Test, Anomalies

The Orbital Flight Test Starliner being processed by technicians after return from White Sands Missile Range. (Credit: Boeing)

Boeing Starliner Program Update

We accept and appreciate the recommendations of the jointly led NASA-Boeing Independent Review Team (IRT) as well as suggestions from the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel following Starliner’s Orbital Flight Test (OFT). Their insights are invaluable to the Commercial Crew Program and we will work with NASA to comprehensively apply their recommendations.

  • Regarding the Mission Elapsed Timer anomaly, the IRT believes they found root cause and provided a number of recommendations and corrective actions.
  • The IRT also investigated a valve mapping software issue, which was diagnosed and fixed in flight. That error in the software would have resulted in an incorrect thruster separation and disposal burn. What would have resulted from that is unclear.
  • The IRT is also making significant progress on understanding the command dropouts encountered during the mission and is further investigating methods to make the Starliner communications system more robust on future missions.

We are already working on many of the recommended fixes including re-verifying flight software code.

Our next task is to build a plan that incorporates IRT recommendations, NASA’s Organizational Safety Assessment (OSA) and any other oversight NASA chooses after considering IRT findings. Once NASA approves that plan, we will be able to better estimate timelines for the completion of all tasks. It remains too soon to speculate about next flight dates.

NASA ASAP: Starliner Software Problem Nearly Caused Catastrophic Failure

The NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) is meeting today. Members are saying the software problems with Boeing’s Starliner orbital flight test in December were more numerous and serious than initially reported.

If you recall, a software timing error resulted in the Starliner being unable to raise its orbit sufficiently to dock with the International Space Station. The spacecraft spent two days in orbit before landing safely at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The nature of the second software bug is unclear.

NASA is trying to decide whether to require Boeing to fly the test again before placing crew on board for another flight test to the space station. Boeing has taken a $410 million charge against earnings in the event it needs to fly another mission.

NASA Safety Advisory Panel Releases Annual Report

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), an advisory committee that reports to NASA and Congress, issued its 2019 annual report Tuesday examining the agency’s safety performance over the past year and highlighting accomplishments, issues and concerns. 

The report highlights 2019 activities and includes assessments of NASA’s:

  • International Space Station
  • Lunar and deep space exploration
  • Exploration Systems Development
  • Commercial Crew Program
  • Aeronautics and air operations
  • Safety culture
  • Enterprise protection

“The panel noted considerable headway toward NASA’s human exploration objectives in 2019,” said ASAP Chair Patricia Sanders. “We are supportive of the significant amount of testing – both completed and underway – as well as the thoroughness of ongoing work to resolve technical issues. While many challenges remain, the progress to date is encouraging; however, much work lies ahead.”

The report notes the panel’s focus over the past year on the qualification testing, analysis, and validation efforts of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and Exploration Systems Development as both efforts move closer to launching uncrewed and crewed flights. Achieving these milestones will be critical steps toward launching the first woman and the next man to the surface of the Moon by 2024 with NASA’s Artemis program, part of the agency’s broader Moon to Mars exploration approach.  

The report is based on the panel’s 2019 fact-finding and quarterly public meetings; “insight” visits and meetings; direct observations of NASA operations and decision-making processes; discussions with NASA management, employees and contractors; and the panel members’ own experience.

Congress established the panel in 1968 to provide advice and make recommendations to the NASA administrator on safety matters after the 1967 Apollo 1 fire that claimed the lives of three American astronauts.

For more information about the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, and to view the 2019 report, visit:

https://oiir.hq.nasa.gov/asap

ASAP: Inadequate Commercial Crew Funding Risking Unacceptable Safety Compromises

Commercial Crew Program Funding

CCP_funding

On the same day that NASA and its commercial partners held a press conference to highlight progress in the Commercial Crew Program (CCP), the space agency’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) released a report spotlighting worries about chronic Congressional underfunding of the program will lead to decisions that diminish safety standards for the new spacecraft.

“The ASAP is concerned that some will champion an approach that is a current option contained in the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement. There is risk this optional, orbital flight-test demonstration with a non-NASA crew could yield two standards of safety—one reflecting NASA requirements, and one with a higher risk set of commercial requirements. It also raises questions of who acts as certification authority and what differentiates public from private accountability,” wrote ASAP Chairman Joseph W. Dyer in the report’s cover letter.

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ASAP: Commercial Crew Program at Risk From Inadequate Budget, Oversight

The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) believes that NASA’s commercial crew program is at risk from inadequate funding and the space agency’s decision budget-based decision to use less intrusive Space Act Agreements (SAA) to oversee the work of developing vehicles to replace the retired space shuttle.

“It appears to the ASAP that the fiscal year (FY) 2012 funding level approved by Congress, which was less than half of what was requested by the Administration, will not allow commercial crew transportation to the ISS by 2016,” ASAP said in its annual report released this week. “In fact, if the new funding level continues into the future, it is the ASAP’s belief that the program is in jeopardy, thus extending the current lack of a U.S. human spaceflight capability and resulting in no alternative to reliance on Russia to obtain access to the ISS.”

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NASA Safety Panel Finds Urgent Need for Clear Direction, Commercial Space Acquisition Strategy

The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel that offers guidance to NASA has released its annual report for 2010. A key finding, unsurprisingly, is that the long uncertainty over the space agency’s future is causing a great deal of confusion and lowering morale at NASA centers, possibly jeopardizing safety operations.

The ASAP report also includes a lengthy section concerning NASA’s plans to procure human spaceflight on a commercial basis, with considerable emphasis on the need for the space agency to develop a clear acquisition strategy.

Urgent Need to Promulgate Acquisition Strategy

An acquisition strategy is fundamental to the development of standards and requirements for commercial crew transportation. The Panel has emphasized the necessity of developing and promulgating a good acquisition strategy as quickly as possible.

Key excerpts of the report that deal with clarity of purpose and commercial space are reproduced after the break.

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Musk: NASA Safety Panel’s Slam of Commercial Launchers “Bizarre”

SpacX Founder Elon Musk
SpacX Founder Elon Musk

SpaceX founder Elon Musk is slamming the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel’s recommendation that NASA not abandon the Ares I launcher because commercial alternatives do not meet the space agency’s human spaceflight safety standards, Spaceflight Now reports.

“I have to say I’ve lost a lot of respect for the ASAP panel,” Musk said. “If they are to say such things, then they ought to say it on the basis of data, not on random speculation.”

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Safety Panel to Obama: Don’t Ditch Ares I

Ares I-X lifts off from the Cape.
Ares I-X lifts off from the Cape.

Safety panel sides with Ares I rocket
Florida Today

Ditching the development of the Ares I rocket in favor of unproven commercial crew taxis would be “a poor choice,” an independent NASA safety panel said in an annual report released Friday.

“To abandon Ares I as a baseline vehicle for an alternative without demonstrated capability nor proven superiority (or even equivalence) is unwise and probably not cost-effective,” it states.

The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel’s report comes as the Obama administration nears its release of a 2011 budget proposal in early February that is expected to provide a new direction for the nation’s human spaceflight program.

Read the full story.