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Boeing’s new Starliner spacecraft landed in the New Mexico desert on Sunday morning — days after the NASA mission failed because the capsule’s clock was improperly set, and the capsule ended up in the wrong orbit.
The Starliner launched by the Atlas V rocket Friday morning, but the capsule’s clock was not synced up properly with the timing on the rocket. The Starline “had a Mission Elapsed Time (MET) anomaly causing the spacecraft to believe that it was in an orbital insertion burn, when it was not,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted shortly after the launch.
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“Because #Starliner believed it was in an orbital insertion burn (or that the burn was complete), the dead bands were reduced and the spacecraft burned more fuel than anticipated to maintain precise control,” he added. “This precluded @Space_Station rendezvous.”
An industry source with knowledge of the matter told Fox News on Friday that the Atlas rocket performed as intended, placing the Starliner into orbit.
Sent into space with only a test dummy in order to prepare for a flight with a real crew next year, the Starliner was supposed to spend a week at the International Space Station. Because of the mishap, the capsule was launched into the wrong orbit shortly after it launched. The station docking was scrapped, and Boeing and NASA decided to bring the spacecraft home as soon as possible.
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“We started the clock at the wrong time,” Jim Chilton, a senior vice president for Boeing, said Saturday. “As a result of starting the clock at the wrong time, the spacecraft upon reaching space thought she was later in the mission and, being autonomous, started to behave that way.”
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the Boeing Starliner crew capsule on an Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force station, Friday, Dec. 20, 2019, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The Starliner spacecraft did not reach the proper orbit.(AP Photo/Terry Renna)
Hoards of people watched the Starliner’s initial flight take off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station last week. It was visible for at least five minutes, but as news of a setback began to emerge, the mood quickly turned negative. NASA officials deferred to Boeing for updates.
Boeing, which has been working on the Starliner since 2010, was awarded a $4 billion contract by NASA in 2014 to work on the Starliner, as it looks to compete with SpaceX, NASA’s other commercial crew provider.
In March, the Elon Musk-led company successfully completed a similar demonstration. SpaceX has one more hurdle, a launch abort test, before it will carry two NASA astronauts on its Dragon capsule, which could happen as soon as spring 2020.
“Orbit is hard,” SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk said in a tweet to Boeing. “Best wishes for landing & swift recovery to next mission.”
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It’s been nearly nine years since NASA astronauts have launched from the U.S. The last time was July 8, 2011, when Atlantis — now on display at Kennedy Space Center — made the final space shuttle flight.
Since then, NASA astronauts have traveled to and from the space station via Kazakhstan, courtesy of the Russian Space Agency, costing the space agency $86 million per ride.
Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia and James Rogers and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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