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Boeing Investigates Bug That Cut Short Trip To Space Station

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A Boeing CST-100 Starliner undergoing fit checks at a facility at Kennedy Space Center. Photo: Brendan Byrne / WMFE

Boeing’s test flight of its Starliner capsule last December didn’t go to plan.  The starliner failed to meet up with the space station because of a coding error. Orlando Sentinel space and business reporter Chabeli Carrazana and 90.7 space reporter Brendan Byrne explain what that means for the commercial crew program to once more launch astronauts from US soil. 

Carrazana says the problems with the mission began when the thrusters fired at the wrong time, putting the spacecraft into the wrong orbit.

“They realize that there was a coding error, and they start hunting for other coding errors through the mission and they find out that the service module, at the point it’s supposed to separate from the crew capsule, there’s a mistake there as well, which could have led the two spacecraft to collide with each other, and that was a big concern for the team,” says Carrazana.

“Perhaps we weren’t as rigorous with Boeing because they have been involved in every human spaceflight program that we’ve had, and SpaceX came up during this new technology age, and perhaps they were better prepared,”

Byrne says the Starliner shares a lot of design elements with other spacecraft.

“We found out that a lot of the hardware and software on the Starliner comes from the X-37-B program, which is Boeing’s secret space plane — the mini shuttle– that they fly for the Air Force, which, as far as we know, has had a very successful career in space.”

He says Boeing is running through a million lines of code to make sure the same problem doesn’t happen again.

“They’re running every ‘if, then’ statement and logic stem in the software code to see where everything goes, what would happen if this happens, so it’s this very rigorous testing.”


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Matthew Peddie

About Matthew Peddie

Host of WMFE's Intersection & Assistant News Director

Matthew Peddie grew up in New Zealand and studied journalism at the University of Western Ontario. After graduating with an MA in Journalism he returned to Christchurch, working as a reporter for Radio Live and Radio New Zealand. He’s reported live from the scene of earthquakes, criminal trials and rugby ... Read Full Bio »