According to a recent report, a NASA safety panel has revealed that it is investigating a possible “catastrophic” software glitch that occurred during a crucial test flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spaceship designed to carry astronauts.
Business Insider reports that NASA has begun an investigation into a previously undisclosed software error that occurred during a test flight of a Boeing spacecraft designed to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Boeing’s spacecraft, the CST-100 Starliner, is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program which asked private companies to develop new spacecraft. Boeing and SpaceX have headed the competition and are now racing to launch astronauts into space.
During an orbital flight test in December, an error in clock software led to Boeing’s Starliner initiating a phase of the mission that the spacecraft had yet to reach. This resulted in the spacecraft burning through 25 percent of its fuel forcing Boeing to skip docking with the space station which was the main aim of the mission.
NASA has now discovered a second software issue with the Starliner which ground controllers fixed during the middle of that failed test flight. According to Boeing and NASA officials, the error could have resulted in a collision between two units of the spacecraft, the crew module and the service module. If this issue had not been corrected mid-flight, a collision could have significantly damaged the crew module’s heat shield. according to SpaceNews, Paul Hill, a member of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, said at a meeting on Thursday that this could have led to “catastrophic spacecraft failure.”
NASA convened a team to discuss the errors, Doug Loverro, a NASA associate administrator, stated during a call that: “They are likely only symptoms. They are not the real problem.” NASA investigators found that the source of the issues related to coding defects that Boeing’s testing team did not find before the flight test. “We want to understand what the culture is at Boeing that may have led to that,” Loverro said.
NASA press officer Marie Lewis wrote in a blog post on Friday: “Software defects, particularly in complex spacecraft code, are not unexpected. However, there were numerous instances where the Boeing software quality processes either should have or could have uncovered the defects.”