Scrutinizing SpaceX, NASA Overlooked Some Boeing Software Problems

Kathy Lueders, who was just lately appointed affiliate administrator of the company’s human exploration and operations directorate, mentioned that NASA, as a part of efforts to scale back expensive bureaucratic overhead, had not requested Boeing or SpaceX for a high-level administration plan for a way advanced items of engineering can be put collectively and examined.

But that lack of know-how meant that NASA didn’t totally perceive how Boeing was designing the Starliner’s software program and the testing course of for verifying that it will work as supposed. “We thought we understood it, but we ended up finding out that over time, that kind of changed,” Ms. Lueders mentioned.

She additionally mentioned that for the December check flight, NASA had targeted on the very best priorities, particularly making certain that Starliner didn’t pose any hazard to the area station because it approached, and which may have prompted software program engineering to obtain much less consideration.

“Where do you apply the resources to make sure that you’re getting kind of the biggest bang for your buck, to be able to really flesh out where you have problems in your systems?” she mentioned.

NASA is now overseeing software program improvement extra intently at each SpaceX and Boeing.

The Starliner spacecraft, launched on high of an Atlas 5 rocket on Dec. 20, encountered two main software program issues throughout its flight. The first occurred minutes after the spacecraft had separated from the rocket, as a result of the capsule’s clock had been set flawed. That prompted the spacecraft to squander its propellant, and a deliberate docking on the International Space Station was known as off.

Starliner additionally skilled a communications downside that prevented mission controllers from rapidly regaining management. An investigation revealed that the spacecraft’s radio receiver had been listening to too huge a swath of frequencies, which led to interference from different transmissions from Earth. Boeing engineers have added a filter to restrict the frequencies.

A 3rd flaw would have fired the flawed thrusters as Starliner was making ready for re-entry. As Boeing engineers rapidly combed by the Starliner software program within the aftermath of the clock downside, they discovered that downside and glued it. If it had not been mounted, two items of Starliner — the capsule that returns to Earth and the service module, which is discarded — might need collided. The capsule might need tumbled and burned up within the ambiance as a substitute of touchdown safely in White Sands, N.M.

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