Starliner has on-orbit anomaly after flawless launch

Launch of Starliner’s Orbital Flight Test. Credit: Space Scout/Matoro.

Update @ 2:57 pm EST: Per administrator Jim Bridenstine, Starliner will be returning home early.

Update @ 11:47 p.m. EST: Boeing has put out a new update about Starliner and its progress. The spacecraft is in a stable condition, and many tests are still being conducted.

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DEC. 20, 2019–Starliner’s Orbital Flight Test took off flawlessly at 6:36 a.m. this morning from Cape Canaveral’s pad 41. However, after separation from the Atlas V N22, which performed without trouble, Starliner ran into what NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine called a Mission Elapsed Time anomaly, leading Starliner to “believe it was in an orbital insertion burn, when it was not”.

Because Starliner believed that either it was in a burn, or the burn was complete, the attitude dead-bands (margin of error) was reduced and it burned much more fuel than anticipated to maintain precise control. According to Bridenstine, this rules out an ISS rendezvous. However, the spacecraft’s orbit is being elevated to a safe place.

CFT Astronaut Christopher Ferguson states that Starliner is an “unplanned, but safe orbit”. Ferguson stresses that ULA’s Atlas V performed flawlessly. Landing early, for example, in 48 hours at White Sands Missile Range. The Vice President has currently been briefed about the situation, and all is nominal at this time.

Boeing issued a statement at 11:35 a.m about the anomaly:

The CST-100 Starliner is in a safe, stable orbit after an anomaly this morning following launch and spacecraft separation from the Atlas V. The anomaly appears to have been the result of a mission elapsed timer (MET) using an unexpected timeline, which delayed orbital insertion thruster firings, putting Starliner in an unplanned orbit. Further root cause analysis is needed. The Boeing flight control team quickly took action to place Starliner into an orbit that supports a safe landing at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The combined Boeing and NASA team now plan to work together to define test flight objectives for the remainder of the mission, while preparing for the Starliner landing. At this time, we do not expect the Starliner to dock at the International Space Station on this flight. We are proud of the team for their professionalism and quick action to protect the vehicle and enable a safe return. We look forward to reviewing and learning from the data that has been generated from this mission so far.

This is a developing story. Check back later for more. For updates from Boeing, follow starlinerupdates.com.

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