Science

Boeing will redo botched test for Starliner crew capsule

Boeing said Monday it will repeat a test flight of its astronaut capsule following last year's botched demo, considered a perilous close call by NASA.

Investigation found capsule could have been destroyed twice due to errors in December flight

In this Dec. 19, 2019, file photo, Boeing's first Starliner spacecraft sits on top of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket before a botched, unmanned test flight that was considered a perilous close call by NASA. Boeing said Monday, April 6, 2020, it will repeat a test flight. (Terry Renna/Associated Press)

Boeing said Monday it will repeat a test flight of its astronaut capsule following last year's botched demo, considered a perilous close call by NASA.

Boeing spokesman Jerry Drelling said the company is looking to fly a second Starliner capsule, once again without a crew, possibly this fall. If that goes well, then astronauts will climb aboard on the following mission.

The Starliner's debut last December was marred by software errors. The capsule ended up in the wrong orbit and, as a result, could not reach the International Space Station as intended. Investigators later determined the capsule could have been destroyed in flight — twice — as a result of the mistakes.

"Flying another uncrewed flight will allow us to complete all flight test objectives and evaluate the performance of the second Starliner vehicle at no cost to the taxpayer," the company said in a statement.

Boeing said earlier this year that it took a $410 million US ($575 million Cdn) charge in its fourth-quarter earnings, to pay for a potential repeat.

In this long exposure photo, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the Boeing Starliner crew capsule lifts off on an orbital flight test to the International Space Station from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force station on Dec. 20, 2019. The capsule ended up in the wrong orbit and could not continue to the space station. (Terry Renna/The Associated Press)

NASA hired Boeing — along with SpaceX — to transport astronauts to and from the space station, and ease the space agency's costly reliance on Russian rockets for launching crews.

SpaceX is on track to launch two NASA astronauts aboard its Dragon crew capsule next month. It will be the first human launch from Cape Canaveral since NASA's space shuttle program ended in 2011. The company is shooting for mid-to-late May.

SpaceX's first test flight of its crew Dragon a year ago, without a crew, was successful.

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