NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) revealed that the December 2019 incident with Boeing's CST-100 Starliner space capsule could have taken disastrous contours. The responsible panel made it known that, in addition to the anomaly in the countdown system that caused the early return to Earth, a second software error could have caused a catastrophic failure.
The revelation comes at a time when Boeing and NASA are analyzing the mission data. As the ASAP officials indicate, the second flaw in the software managed to be resolved while the CST-100 Starliner was still in orbit, Reuters says. The error could have caused the propellants of the vehicle to be activated in the process of descending Earth, causing an uncontrolled landing.
Boeing's space taxi, which hopes to be able to transport manned missions soon, was launched on December 20 last year by the Atlas V rocket to test its International Space Station docking capability. However, after separation, the CST-100 Starliner thrusters were not activated and the vehicle was unable to reach the altitude required to reach ISS.
The engineers in charge of mission control tried to resolve the anomaly manually, sending codes for their correction. The error caused the Starliner system to assume that the necessary operations had already been carried out to put it on the correct route, causing fuel consumption above expectations.
NASA and Boeing will continue to investigate the causes behind the CST-100 Starliner system software failures. Nevertheless, ASAP has shown its concern about the rigor of the verification processes carried out by Boeing. NASA will also have to decide whether the company can repeat unmanned tests before moving on to astronaut transport missions to the ISS.
J Crew Dragon of Space X seems to be more successful in their tests. In January of this year, the company led by Elon Musk was able to successfully complete the test necessary to get NASA's green light to start manned missions for the ISS. At issue was the escape system of the astronauts in the event of an incident.