The Boeing Starliner capsule is positioned on an Atlas V rocket prior to launch.
NASA | Cory Huston
NASA and Boeing plan to rerun an important test of the company's Starliner spacecraft later this year, although the U.S. space agency said on Tuesday that no launch date has yet been set.
A NASA investigation revealed 80 recommended changes that Boeing should make to its spacecraft after the aerospace company's space test failed in December due to several anomalies. Starliner should launch to the International Space Station, deliver cargo, and return safely – in an important final test before people fly.
However, Starliner did not connect to the ISS after its autonomous flight control system failed shortly after launch and put Starliner in the wrong orbit. The spacecraft returned to orbit after about two days and landed safely in the New Mexico desert as planned. While Boeing was able to test many parts of Starliner during the shortened flight, NASA declared the flight test a "close call" and said the spaceship could have been lost twice during the mission.
While NASA's investigation into the failed flight test was still ongoing at the time, Boeing announced in April that it would try the flight test again without a crew. The company had previously provided $ 410 million in case the test needed to be rerun.
NASA previously said the investigation found 61 "corrective actions" for Starliners. That number rose to 80 recommended fixes at the end of NASA's review on Tuesday.
"Today we are transforming the page from the [flight test] investigation phase to hardware development," for the next flight, NASA Commercial Crew program manager Steve Stich told reporters.
Boeing developed Starliner as part of NASA's Commercial Crew program. Billions of funds go to Boeing and SpaceX to develop each spacecraft to replace the space shuttle program. Under Commercial Crew, NASA has awarded around $ 3.1 billion and Boeing around $ 4.8 billion over the past decade. SpaceX developed its Crew Dragon capsule, which launched astronauts for the first time in May, while Boeing developed the Starliner capsule.
A little over a year ago, Boeing SpaceX appeared to be months ahead in its schedule to launch NASA astronauts for the first time. In April 2019, NASA announced that Boeing's unscrewed flight test was aimed at August. The first crewed Starliner flight targeted "late 2019" while SpaceX investigated a failure of the Crew Dragon test. Boeing's unscrewed flight test was only started in December and was canceled shortly after a malfunction of the autonomous flight system.
"The current pace for the [next] flight is to set up and test all software upgrades," said Stich.
NASA has not released the full list of 80 recommendations to Boeing, but has released a summary. The space agency said the results of the investigation report were "company sensitive and proprietary," even though NASA said it would share lessons from the investigation with other human space companies such as SpaceX.
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