Starliner flies to wrong orbit

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bmforre
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Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by bmforre » Sat Dec 21, 2019 2:30 am

Spacecraft takes wrong orbit due to clock error
The first test of Starliner, built by Boeing’s space and defense division, was postponed multiple times this year. The Atlas 5 performed as designed, placing the capsule on an elliptical trajectory. The capsule itself was to make a final maneuver that would shift the orbit from elliptical to circular and allow it to meet up with the International Space Station on Saturday.

But somehow, the spacecraft’s clock was set to the wrong time, and a flawed thruster burn pushed the capsule into the wrong orbit.

“We don’t understand the root cause,” said Jim Chilton, senior vice president of the space and launch division of defense, space and security segment of Boeing.
This means the US will depend on foreign services even longer:
Additional delays to Boeing’s schedule increase the possibility that NASA will have to reduce the number of astronauts living in its section of the space station. Even before Friday, the space agency was already talking to Russia about purchasing one or two additional seats on Soyuz rockets, the only means for getting to the space station for more than eight years since the retirement of NASA’s space shuttles in 2011.

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Re: Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by bolo » Sat Dec 21, 2019 3:08 am

Payments to Russia related to the International Space Station, including the purchase of Soyuz seats, require a waiver under the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act. That waiver currently only extends to 2020. The appropriations bill just passed, which Trump is expected to sign later tonight, extends the waiver by five years. Make of that what you will.

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Re: Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by Matatouille » Sat Dec 21, 2019 6:40 am

This doesn't on its own postpone the US getting domestic crew launch capability back, but it does mean there is all the more pressure on SpaceX to not have any more issues to work out of Crew Dragon. Both companies have had significant test setbacks of late (SpaceX blew up a capsule because of a plumbing anomoly, Boeing had a parachute that wasn't properly attached to the vehicle, both causes apparently fixed now), and both are having trouble certifying their parachute systems.

The thing Boeing have been spinning about yesterday's flight is that astronauts on board would have spotted the issue and taken manual control to keep the mission on track. I am inclined to believe them, the scenario approximately described as 'computer makes weird unexpected deviations from planned flight profile' is something that has been on the astronaut simmulator training syllabus since Gemini. Why Mission Control couldn't do the same yesterday is a question I'd like to see an answer for. Whether NASA believes them will be manifested in whether Boeing get their crewed test flight in 2020.

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Re: Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by bmforre » Sat Dec 21, 2019 7:03 am

Matatouille wrote:
Sat Dec 21, 2019 6:40 am
The thing Boeing have been spinning about yesterday's flight is that astronauts on board would have spotted the issue and taken manual control to keep the mission on track. I am inclined to believe them, the scenario approximately described as 'computer makes weird unexpected deviations from planned flight profile' is something that has been on the astronaut simmulator training syllabus since Gemini. Why Mission Control couldn't do the same yesterday is a question I'd like to see an answer for. Whether NASA believes them will be manifested in whether Boeing get their crewed test flight in 2020.
Reportedly this error happened while communication between ground control and spacecraft was bad as the Starliner was just transiting from one ground station to another.
Perhaps they ought to have had satellite link?

But not to worry: The Space Force is soon going forward / up in the air /whatever. Surely they'll defend against such problems.

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Re: Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by Matatouille » Sat Dec 21, 2019 7:37 am

bmforre wrote:
Sat Dec 21, 2019 7:03 am
Reportedly this error happened while communication between ground control and spacecraft was bad as the Starliner was just transiting from one ground station to another.
Perhaps they ought to have had satellite link?

But not to worry: The Space Force is soon going forward / up in the air /whatever. Surely they'll defend against such problems.
I just watched this video by Scott Manley on it whilst having my breakfast. He was discussing the most current hypothesis as of when he recorded the video sometime yesterday talking about the satellite link for spacecraft data connections having a location with some signal blackouts , which the spacecraft possibly happened to be in when mission control tried to send the "oi, do your circularisation burn!" message. Why they were getting telemetry back but couldn't get a command through I'm not clear on either. Questions, questions...


Has the Great Orange One got one of his underlings to explain in non-vague hand-wavy terms what the Space Force will actually be for? I've not come across anything, and don't expect anything either.

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Re: Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by GeenDienst » Sat Dec 21, 2019 10:42 am

Isn't this weighty? Then delete this.
Just tell 'em I'm broke and don't come round here no more.

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Re: Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by bmforre » Sat Dec 21, 2019 11:11 am

GeenDienst wrote:
Sat Dec 21, 2019 10:42 am
Isn't this weighty? Then delete this.
In orbit one is close to weightless.

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Re: Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by Grumble » Sat Dec 21, 2019 1:15 pm

I misread this as “Starmer flies to wrong orbit”
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Re: Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by bolo » Sat Dec 21, 2019 8:03 pm

The Space Force is entirely about a reorg of DOD space activities. Nothing to do with NASA or Starliner.

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Re: Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by Bird on a Fire » Sat Dec 21, 2019 8:31 pm

bmforre wrote:
Sat Dec 21, 2019 11:11 am
GeenDienst wrote:
Sat Dec 21, 2019 10:42 am
Isn't this weighty? Then delete this.
In orbit one is close to weightless.
Thread moved to Weighty Matters as it appeared to be orbiting the wrong subforum
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Re: Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by Herainestold » Sat Dec 21, 2019 8:46 pm

bolo wrote:
Sat Dec 21, 2019 8:03 pm
The Space Force is entirely about a reorg of DOD space activities. Nothing to do with NASA or Starliner.
Is it a new force like the Air Force only Space, or not really?

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Re: Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by Gfamily » Sat Dec 21, 2019 8:54 pm

Herainestold wrote:
Sat Dec 21, 2019 8:46 pm
bolo wrote:
Sat Dec 21, 2019 8:03 pm
The Space Force is entirely about a reorg of DOD space activities. Nothing to do with NASA or Starliner.
Is it a new force like the Air Force only Space, or not really?
I think it depends who you ask.
My avatar was a scientific result that was later found to be 'mistaken' - I rarely claim to be 100% correct

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Re: Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by bolo » Sat Dec 21, 2019 9:47 pm

The law officially establishing it was signed less than 24 hours ago, so some aspects remain TBD. But yes, it will be a separate military service, and its senior officer will be one of the joint chiefs, reporting to the civilian Secretary of the Air Force, not to another general. (This doesn't mean it will be part of the Air Force. It's like the Commandant of the Marine Corps reporting to the Secretary of the Navy.)

Most of its functions and personnel are transferred from existing Air Force units, though, so it's not "new" in that sense.

Fun fact: the deal to establish it was basically a political swap with the Democrats for giving civil servants 12 weeks of paid parental leave (up from zero).

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Re: Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by Herainestold » Sat Dec 21, 2019 9:55 pm

bolo wrote:
Sat Dec 21, 2019 9:47 pm
The law officially establishing it was signed less than 24 hours ago, so some aspects remain TBD. But yes, it will be a separate military service, and its senior officer will be one of the joint chiefs, reporting to the civilian Secretary of the Air Force, not to another general. (This doesn't mean it will be part of the Air Force. It's like the Commandant of the Marine Corps reporting to the Secretary of the Navy.)

Most of its functions and personnel are transferred from existing Air Force units, though, so it's not "new" in that sense.

Fun fact: the deal to establish it was basically a political swap with the Democrats for giving civil servants 12 weeks of paid parental leave (up from zero).
Okay thanks for that. Much clearer now.

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Re: Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by Gfamily » Sat Dec 21, 2019 10:01 pm

bolo wrote:
Sat Dec 21, 2019 9:47 pm
The law officially establishing it was signed less than 24 hours ago, so some aspects remain TBD. But yes, it will be a separate military service, and its senior officer will be one of the joint chiefs, reporting to the civilian Secretary of the Air Force, not to another general. (This doesn't mean it will be part of the Air Force. It's like the Commandant of the Marine Corps reporting to the Secretary of the Navy.)

Most of its functions and personnel are transferred from existing Air Force units, though, so it's not "new" in that sense.

Fun fact: the deal to establish it was basically a political swap with the Democrats for giving civil servants 12 weeks of paid parental leave (up from zero).
I assume that the Boeing X-37 is one of the initial transfers ...
My avatar was a scientific result that was later found to be 'mistaken' - I rarely claim to be 100% correct

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Re: Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by bolo » Sat Dec 21, 2019 10:27 pm

I presume so, but I haven't been following it closely enough to be certain.

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Re: Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by Matatouille » Sun Dec 22, 2019 7:35 am

From what I've read yesterday, I'd be surprised if X-37 transfers, it has the characteristics of a technology test vehicle rather than a surveillance or defence system. It doesn't seem as though the National Reconnaissance Office, who control the spy sats, is being put under Space Force either. The technology tested on X-37 missions may well end up under SF purview however.

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Re: Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by Little waster » Sun Dec 22, 2019 12:00 pm

Gfamily wrote:
Sat Dec 21, 2019 8:54 pm
Herainestold wrote:
Sat Dec 21, 2019 8:46 pm
bolo wrote:
Sat Dec 21, 2019 8:03 pm
The Space Force is entirely about a reorg of DOD space activities. Nothing to do with NASA or Starliner.
Is it a new force like the Air Force only Space, or not really?
I think it depends who you ask.
Well someone has to man the Death Star Trump is building.

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Re: Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by jimbob » Tue Dec 24, 2019 6:02 pm

Matatouille wrote:
Sun Dec 22, 2019 7:35 am
From what I've read yesterday, I'd be surprised if X-37 transfers, it has the characteristics of a technology test vehicle rather than a surveillance or defence system. It doesn't seem as though the National Reconnaissance Office, who control the spy sats, is being put under Space Force either. The technology tested on X-37 missions may well end up under SF purview however.
It seems to have had long missions for something that's just a test vehicle
Have you considered stupidity as an explanation

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Re: Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by bolo » Tue Dec 24, 2019 9:03 pm

There is a specific statutory prohibition on including the NRO. Other than that, DOD has some discretion about what to transfer in, and that will probably be a moving target over the coming months and maybe years. Initially, it's everything that was previously part of the Air Force's Space Command. I'm pretty sure that doesn't include the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, which manages the X-37 program, but it does include the 45th Space Wing, which runs Canaveral Air Force Station, where the X-37 is launched.

Early days yet, though.

ETA: Edited for accuracy.

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Re: Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by Matatouille » Wed Dec 25, 2019 10:49 am

Reports growing over the last couple of days seem to highlight an embarrassing coding error for Boeing, that I can't work out how it got through the test program. A space mission has essentially 2 mission elapsed times - one fro liftoff, and another from an arbitrary time before that - often power-up of the rocket. This is because both the launcher and payload will have various scheduled tasks to do in some order prior to liftoff, and in the case of a crew capsule such as this, that could include abort events. It seems that from the moment that Starliner separated from the Cygnus upper stage, it took the 11+ hours mission elapsed time since rocket power-up, in place of the few minutes mission elapsed time since liftoff. This meant that the Starliner got very confused about where it was, its attitude, and various other things It burned Reaction Control thrusters to try to fix the attitude and orbit, but without doing its scheduled orbital circularistion main engine burn. This meant that the antenna was wrongly oriented to get the correct commands from Mission Control to rectify the missed circularisation burn until it was too late to synchronise with the ISS. It also meant that the RCS thrusters burned waaaay harder than they were ever designed for- short pulses versus seconds long blasts - so those got very robustly tested this mission at least.

They could have still rendezvoused with the ISS in a couple of weeks, but the spacecraft by then would possibly be running short of other consumables. I suspect the main reason for the rendezvous being called off was that ISS control wouldn't let a vehicle inside into its proximity that had recently exhibited such a fundamental programming error, at least without crew aboard who could take control if things went awry. Memories are still vivid of Mir nearly getting killed when a docking Progress supply vehicle collided with it.

What I can't figure out, is how such a fundamental issue wasn't found in testing. When you design and certify an airliner, you build an "Iron Bird" frame, which places all the flight hardware from sensors, to actuators, wires and computers in approximately their authentic positions relative to each other, and with authentic cable lengths etc. Then you subject it to myriad of tests from simulated flights and emergency events, sensor inputs, glitches etc and see how it behaves. There is no reason why you can't do this with a launch stack & its capsule's systems, and if they did I can't fathom how this issue didn't manifest in the flight simulations done with the Iron Bird.
jimbob wrote:
Tue Dec 24, 2019 6:02 pm
It seems to have had long missions for something that's just a test vehicle
It is more that there aren't very many offensive or surveillance capabilities that require you to get your hardware back - at least not in a time-frame measured longer than hours or days. The payload bay isn't big enough to contain a telescope as you'll find on an optical surveillance satellite. You could have EM sniffing equipment, but you don't really need that back either after its job is done. For context, Hubble is believed by analyists to be very closely related to the US Keyhole surveillance satellites of its day, it came from the same design house and had similar optics sizes, and filled up the entire Space Shuttle payload bay.

What the X-37 does give you is the ability to launch devellopment hardware, put it through much more accurate tests simulating mission environments and scenarios for long duration than is possible on the ground, then get it back to analyse. It can also release objects to interact with - make approaches with "satellite killer" hardware, grapplers, potentially directed energy weapons etc. This last bit was hinted at in the press release after the most recent X-37 flight which referenced releasing a number of cube sats - which had conspicuously not been added to the database of orbital objects that the US maintains. The speculation was that the cube sats never separated far from the X-37, and were probably recovered again after tests were complete.

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Re: Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by bmforre » Wed Dec 25, 2019 12:03 pm

Matatouille wrote:
Wed Dec 25, 2019 10:49 am
Reports growing over the last couple of days seem to highlight an embarrassing coding error for Boeing, that I can't work out how it got through the test program. ...
What I can't figure out, is how such a fundamental issue wasn't found in testing. When you design and certify an airliner, you build an "Iron Bird" frame, which places all the flight hardware from sensors, to actuators, wires and computers in approximately their authentic positions relative to each other, and with authentic cable lengths etc. Then you subject it to myriad of tests from simulated flights and emergency events, sensor inputs, glitches etc and see how it behaves. There is no reason why you can't do this with a launch stack & its capsule's systems, and if they did I can't fathom how this issue didn't manifest in the flight simulations done with the Iron Bird. ...
See discussions on thread "Is software enginnering, well, engineering?"

See also new trustboosting publications from Boeing publication folks re safety of 7393 MAX:
Boeing Can’t Fly It but Ready to Sell Its Safety
In a draft of a frequently-asked-questions document intended to help airlines communicate with their employees, Boeing included the question “Is it true that the 737 Max was rushed into service?”

Boeing suggests the airlines answer this way: “No. Over a six-year period, Boeing worked through a disciplined methodical development process that culminated with a robust test program that validated the airplane’s safety and performance.” ...
And we know the tragic results after those six years of checking and testing.

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Re: Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by Matatouille » Sat Feb 08, 2020 10:20 am

The Orbital Flight Test was worse than Boeing let on.

There were 2 further issues, and the 2nd one could have caused a loss-of-vehicle if the software error wasn't found and patched (rumoured to be just matter of hours prior to when the dodgy code was to be triggered).

The issues were:

1. The mission elapsed time error that prevented the Starliner autonomously gaining the correct orbit. Astronauts on board could have taken manual steps to keep the flight on its nominal path to orbit, as this was a scenario they train for.

2. Another software error that would have meant that prior to re-entry, the service module disposal sequence would have been annotated with un-commanded thruster firings, with a high risk of the Service Module impacting the capsule. This was only found during a ground test whilst the Starliner was in orbit.

3. Intermittent loss of command and control contact with the spacecraft throughout the flight.

There was a teleconference between Boeing Starliner bigwigs and NASA bigwigs on Thursday, some details leaking out of it:
  • Boeing didn't initially tell NASA about the re-entry issue, because they fixed it by software patch in time so the anomaly didn't arise in flight, nothing to see here. I can't imagine that went down well.
  • The root causes of issue 1 and 2 have been found to NASA's satisfaction.
  • There are various hypotheses still being investigated for 3.
  • NASA not satisfied with Boeing's software quality control, asking them to re-verify every line of code for Starliner.
I'd be amazed if Starliner flies again this year, and then it'll probably be an OFT re-fly.

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Re: Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by Gfamily » Sat Feb 08, 2020 9:14 pm

The re-entry issue isn't unique to Starliner - there seems to have been a significant risk of the Apollo 11 re-entry from the service module.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/startswith ... 8040787cbd
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Re: Starliner flies to wrong orbit

Post by Matatouille » Sun Feb 09, 2020 8:07 am

Gfamily wrote:
Sat Feb 08, 2020 9:14 pm
The re-entry issue isn't unique to Starliner - there seems to have been a significant risk of the Apollo 11 re-entry from the service module.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/startswith ... 8040787cbd
I thought I knew quite a lot about the Apollo missions, but have to admit to not having come across that before! Fascinating.

I think the core issue with some of these things is that these days we are not only less tolerant of safety risk in space flight than we were in the days of the space race and sticking it to the commies/capitlists, which makes us more willing to put in the test hours, but we are also more able to do so first.

Both Boeing and SpaceX have had parachute deployment trouble on their Commercial Crew Program vehicles, and had to demonstrate 10 consecutive fully successful air-drop parachute opening tests before being permitted to put crew aboard. Omitting the issue late last year with one Starliner parachute not being properly attached to the craft, it seems that the dynamics of multiple parachutes springing out of a capsule and opening properly without tangles is more complex than we had previously appreciated. We're finding complexities now that we didn't before in Apollo, perhaps because we're simply testing more and better, and they just got lucky in a relatively small sample size of Apollo. The only US capsule with parachutes since Apollo is SpaceX's cargo Dragon. Perhaps that has enabled some learning but the capsule is still rather different and unmanned has different requirements to manned. Soyuz and its derivative Shenzhou both use a single large parachute, with a guillotine and backup single large parachute in case of trouble (Soyuz had its share of parachute problems that had to be worked through by hard experience and fatalities also). Whether China is encountering similar issues in their new capsule is unclear.

I'm less sympathetic with Service Module jettison, parachutes are something we've not actually got that broad a range of experience of, but separating spacecraft is. Parachute deployment happens in an energetic free fall at high airspeed, module separation in the well understood vacuum of space with all of the variables being the systems and components we have control over. Every space capsule since the dawn of the space age has had to detach from a Service Module of some sort. Every satellite kick stage has had to drop its payload in the right place resisting the temptation to subsequently ram into it. Control computers are now not only in the capsules but exist in the service modules where there are also command antennas, so giving it some automation for the separation maneuver need no longer be Very Hard (in the context of all space stuff being Hard or worse). We can now simulate whole systems behavours like this either 100% in a computer, or with a physical systems mockup given simulated circumstances and sensor inputs. We can throw hundreds of scenarios at the system to see if it does something stupid. It should not be up to a simulation with a mission clock running a couple of hours ahead of a live flight's clock to find that a completely normal capsule separation is going to make thrusters fire randomly like it's Guy Fawkes Night.

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