Boeing Starliner capsule returns to White Sands, New Mexico, December 22, 201 (NASA / Bill INGALLS)
NASA has drawn up a list of 80 recommendations that the American aerospace giant Boeing must apply before flying its Starliner space capsule after the failure of an unmanned demonstration mission that could have been very serious if astronauts had been on board .
The recommendations primarily concern on-board software, which was the main problem with the flight last December: the capsule could not be placed in the correct orbit, due to a clock error, and a had to return to Earth after two days when it was to join the International Space Station.
Boeing then realized that other software problems could have caused the capsule and the rocket to collide at the time of separation, which could have been very dangerous for a crew.
Most of the problems identified are deep and organizational, notably the verification procedure by NASA, which is a Boeing customer but has placed too much trust in its historic industrial partner.
“Maybe we were too focused on SpaceX,” said Steve Stich, head of NASA’s commercial flight program, in a call with reporters.
SpaceX, a newcomer to the space industry, is the other company to have been chosen by NASA to develop a vehicle for the American agency; but unlike Boeing, its Dragon capsule successfully completed its empty mission in 2019, then its first manned flight at the end of May, with two astronauts on board.
“We were more used to the Boeing process,” said Steve Stich.
Starliner’s new unmanned test flight could take place “at the end of the year,” he said, without guarantee. Boeing will therefore not transport astronauts until 2021, while the second manned flight of the SpaceX Dragon is scheduled for this summer.
ico / la