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Boeing's Starliner barely makes orbit due to internal clock error


Photo: NASA/Joel Kowsky

This morning at 6:36am ET, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket launched from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Base, FL carrying Boeing's Starliner spacecraft. The Atlas V performed nominally and "hit the bullseye" on accuracy according to ULA CEO Tory Bruno, and successfully deployed the uncrewed Starliner spacecraft into a suborbital trajectory as intended.

Before the intended orbital insertion burn, a timer on-board the spacecraft wasn't correct and believed the orbital insertion burn had already occurred. Ground controllers attempted to send a command to correct this error, but a gap in TDRS satellite communications caused it to not reach the spacecraft as it continued to burn more fuel using its control thrusters to maintain precise control - which pushed it into an orbit out of the atmosphere*. It was noted that if there were crew on-board, this issue could have been caught early and resolved quickly and the astronauts would've been safe.

Now the plan for Starliner is to continue the mission and use the remaining fuel it has (about 75%) and raise its orbit for an optimal reentry profile when the deorbit burn is executed. They will continue testing the systems and finishing the requirements for the orbital test flight before landing in White Sands, New Mexico in roughly 48 hours from now. Unless they see they have enough margin to stay in space longer, they will extend that window for reentry and recovery in White Sands. The spacecraft will not be rendezvousing or docking with the International Space Station. For more information on Starliner visit https://starlinerupdates.com


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