Boeing Starliner spacecraft 'healthy' and set to return to earth after stalling in orbit, says Nasa

‘Tomorrow is a really big day and we have to be on our A game’

Andrew Buncombe
Saturday 21 December 2019 15:49
NASA Boeing Starliner spacecraft launch before they cut livestream

The Starliner spacecraft that stalled on its way to the International Space Station is “healthy” and scheduled to return to earth on Sunday, Nasa official have said.

The Boeing spacecraft launched successfully from Atlas rockets in Florida on Friday, but because of what is believed to have been an error with the automated timing system, it failed to reach the necessary height to dock with the facility.

In a conference call to reporters on Saturday, officials from Nasa and Boeing, said the craft was in a healthy orbit and they were intending to land in New Mexico on Sunday morning.

“Tomorrow is a really big day and we have to be on our A game,” said Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine.

“Certainly there will be a lot of data to examine, but I want everyone to be laser-focussed on tomorrow.”

The launch of the unmanned craft marked a a milestone for Boeing, which is vying with SpaceX – the privately held rocket company of entrepreneur Elon Musk – to revive Nasa’s human spaceflight capabilities.

The implications for any further design and testing requirements before Starliner is approved for its first crewed mission also remained unclear. The prospect that Boeing might need to repeat an unmanned orbital test flight could substantially delay Nasa’s timeline and drive up costs.

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“Entry, descent and landing is not for the faint of heart,” said Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing’s space division. “Make no mistake, we still have something to prove here on entry tomorrow.”

On Friday, Mr Bridenstine told CBS News: “The moment when we needed to talk to the spacecraft, it couldn’t hear us.

“It looks like the spacecraft was rotating or manoeuvring in a way that the antennas could not make lock with the satellite.”

The landing is expected to take place at New Mexico’s White Sands testing range.

The craft will use parachutes and airbags to make a soft touchdown on desert terrain.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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