NASA/Boeing set summer ’21 for first manned Starliner mission


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Capitalism in space: NASA and Boeing have tentatively scheduled the launch of the first manned Starliner mission to ISS for the summer of 2021.

Boeing Co said on Tuesday it aims to redo its unmanned Starliner crew capsule flight test to the International Space Station (ISS) in December or January, depending on when it completes software and test hardware production development.

If the test mission is successful, Boeing and NASA will fly Starliner’s first crewed mission in summer 2021, with a post-certification mission roughly scheduled for the following winter, the company added.

Everything of course depends on the success of the unmanned demo flight. If the capsule has any further problems, as it did on its first unmanned demo flight, the manned flight will likely be delayed again.

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15 comments

  • LocalFluff

    Isn’t the new (uncompetitive) Vulcan launcher supposed to be introduced in 2021? With the unflown BE-4 engine. It looks like poor planning to me, flying Starliner on Atlas V just once having to certify it for crewed flights just before retirement. And we’ll see how the new blueprint launcher will do. Seems to me that SpaceX won’t have any competition in crewed spaceflight this decade.

  • Dick Eagleson

    After last year’s OFT-1 mess, Boeing was initially trying to float the idea that CFT might launch without a do-over mission. Then, after the do-over was mandated by NASA, we were told it would take place in the Fall. Now, the word is that it will happen in Dec. 2020 or Jan. 2021 – which is codespeak for “not this year.”

    I don’t think this is going to be the last announcement of a rightward schedule shift for OFT-2. As with JWST and SLS, the bad news is going to be doled out a bit at a time to try to minimize public notice and reaction. I still think Boeing will be doing well to get the OFT-2 “do-over” mission of Starliner launched by mid-year 2021. I’m sticking with my prediction that Starliner carries no crew, even on the CFT test flight, until 2022.

  • Dick Eagleson: Thank you for that. I had not noticed the delay in the unmanned demo mission. I think you are very right, they are doling out the delays in tiny bits to hide the larger problems. I will pay attention now.

  • Brian

    How this is playing out with Boeing and NASA being able to see first hand how this is playing out, is probably the biggest reason why Boeing wasn’t considered in the competition as one of the top three candidates for the Artemis lander .

  • pzatchok

    All I can see is the old rocket companies lying on their backs kicking their last life out and the new companies passing them up and taking all of their customers and revenue.

    The last kicks are coming from SLS and all things related to it.

  • mkent

    …after the do-over was mandated by NASA…

    The “do-over” was not (publicly) mandated by NASA.

    we were told it would take place in the Fall. Now, the word is that it will happen in Dec. 2020 or Jan. 2021

    The reflight was scheduled for 18 Nov 2021 and is now December or January. Perhaps it will slip more, but so far that’s not much of a slip. About the same as Starlink 10.

    is probably the biggest reason why Boeing wasn’t considered in the competition as one of the top three candidates for the Artemis lander .

    The reason they weren’t among the top three candidates for the Artemis lander is because they responded to information improperly given to them by a former NASA official. By doing that, they essentially removed themselves from the competition. The merits of their proposal didn’t matter at that point.

  • David M. Cook

    Wow, Boeing, what has become of you? Remember the B-17? Remember the 707? Remember the mighty 747? All we get now from Boeing is delay after delay! Look at the 737 Max, still grounded! Now the 2nd ”demo” Starliner flight will occur nearly a full YEAR later?!? Keep in mind all of the Boeing employees are continuing to draw their full paychecks every month, which can‘t be helping the bottom line. Boeing is becoming more of a government jobs provider, and less of a manufacturer!

  • sippin_bourbon

    “Seems to me that SpaceX won’t have any competition in crewed spaceflight this decade.”

    Technically already a sure thing, as the official definition of the decade is from 2011 to 2020.
    The common definition runs 2010- 2019.

    A quibbling point to be sure, meant in jest.

    I am disappointed tho.
    I understand they chose the CST-100 over Sierra Nevada, because SN was not far enough along. But if they have anymore delays, that decision should be revisited.

  • Richard M

    Isn’t the new (uncompetitive) Vulcan launcher supposed to be introduced in 2021? With the unflown BE-4 engine. It looks like poor planning to me, flying Starliner on Atlas V just once having to certify it for crewed flights just before retirement.

    As it turns out, Tory Bruno this week stated that there was no plan to human rate the Vulcan. They plan to just keep flying it on Atlas V through 2028:

    “Boeing hasn’t been certifying the Starliner capsule to fly on Vulcan, meaning the Atlas V will remain Starliner’s ride to the ISS for the foreseeable future. ULA will have the RD-180s to handle the expected pace of Starliner launches into 2028, if needed, Bruno said.​”

    Link: https://www.bizjournals.com/denver/news/2020/08/20/united-launch-alliance-space-force-spacex-contract.html

    Very surprising, but I have to assume they crunched the numbers and determined that keeping Atlas V around solely for Starliner launches once per year is actually cheaper than human rating Vulcan for it.

  • Richard M

    mkent,

    The reason they weren’t among the top three candidates for the Artemis lander is because they responded to information improperly given to them by a former NASA official. By doing that, they essentially removed themselves from the competition. The merits of their proposal didn’t matter at that point.

    As I understand it, Boeing was already pretty well out of it, which is why Loverro apparently decided to give them an illegal leg up by providing additional information to get them to adjust their proposal.

  • Richard M: I predict that Boeing, if Starliner becomes a viable product, will eventually begin searching for alternative launch options. They will need it if they start getting private contracts outside of NASA.

    Assuming of course that Boeing is really interested in being a real competitive company. To this I do have doubts.

  • Richard M: Your understanding is correct. Boeing’s bid was already being rejected (for many reasons related to issues related to the company and its bid). Loverro was trying to help them, playing favorites, which is why he might face criminal charges for doing so during contract bidding.

  • mkent

    I understand they chose the CST-100 over Sierra Nevada, because SN was not far enough along. But if they have anymore delays, that decision should be revisited.

    They chose Boeing over Sierra Nevada in part because Sierra was *five years* behind schedule on their CCiCap contract. They also ground-looped their vehicle during their first landing test, which would have caused serious injuries, possibly fatalities, had there been astronauts aboard.

    SpaceX was also years late with their CCiCap milestones. They also had a serious accident with their vehicle that would have been fatal had there been astronauts aboard.

    Starliner has its problems. But none of them would have been fatal had there been a crew aboard. In fact, the crew could probably have recovered the mission. That doesn’t absolve Boeing of solving the problems, but it puts things in perspective.

    As I understand it, Boeing was already pretty well out of it, which is why Loverro apparently decided to give them an illegal leg up by providing additional information to get them to adjust their proposal.

    According to the source selection statement, NASA was prepared to make four awards. Instead they made three. I find it hard to believe that Boeing’s bid was so bad from NASA’s perspective that they couldn’t have grabbed the fourth spot*. They might not have made the final downselect, but that won’t happen until next year.

    *It might have been. The Gateway Logistics Services contract was ruled out due to intellectual property claims. If Boeing made the same claims on the HLS contract (which was submitted before they learned the results from the GLS contract), then maybe they weren’t in a position to get a contract at all. Pity. I haven’t seen their proposal, but from what I know if it and the other three, I would have ranked them third overall. Good enough for an initial win, but not good enough to win the downselect.

    Assuming of course that Boeing is really interested in being a real competitive company. To this I do have doubts.

    Depends on which part of Boeing you’re talking about. It’s a big and diverse company — not monolithic at all.

  • Edward

    David M. Cook asked: “Wow, Boeing, what has become of you?

    Many people have associated Boeing’s downfall with their move from Washington State to Chicago. Whether the move is supposed to be the cause of the downfall or a changed corporate attitude as the cause of both the move and the downfall is not clear to me. Others have speculated that a change from U.S. software engineers to dependence on foreign software engineers is the cause of the downfall, but again it is not clear if an attitude change was the cause.

    Dave Calhoun has been president for only a few months, not enough time to turn around such a big ship, but I have not been hearing much about any shakeups inside the company, so I am not sure that there is going to be a change in the corporate culture to rectify the problems plaguing the company.

    Thus, I have another question: Boeing, what will become of you?

  • sippin_bourbon

    mkent,

    The second software glitch related to the valve mapping, used in the procedure to drop the service module could have been fatal to a crew.

    The resulting problem created a risk of collision. That collision would have taken place on the side of the capsule with the heat shield.

    “That anomaly was discovered during ground testing while the spacecraft was in orbit, panel member Paul Hill said. “While this anomaly was corrected in flight, if it had gone uncorrected, it would have led to erroneous thruster firings and uncontrolled motion during [service module] separation for deorbit, with the potential for a catastrophic spacecraft failure,” he said.

    source https://spacenews.com/nasa-safety-panel-calls-for-reviews-after-second-starliner-software-problem/

    This would have been (had the mission been normal thus far) after a visit to the ISS, and as part of the de-orbit. They would not have been able to remain in orbit without the SM, or return to the ISS for docking and inspection of the heat shield. So they would have to hope it held.

    The same article also has an opinion that the results would have been unclear.

    Would they have found the error, if the first one had not occurred? Did the original glitch cause them to look and find this? Why was this glitch, along with the other 80, not found in testing.

    They stated the risk level for the other problems found were low. However, in my experience with complex systems, risk level tends to rise when problems are aggregated.

    The CST-100 was not ready to fly. NASA admitted they dropped the ball on scrutiny of the program, being focused on SpaceX instead.

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