KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – A United Launch Alliance rocket blasted off Friday morning before sunrise, sending Boeing’s astronaut capsule on what was meant to be its first uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station. Thirty minutes after launch, however, the Starliner spacecraft missed a critical maneuver, meaning it will not make it to the International Space Station, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said.
Atlas V and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft rocketed away at 6:36 a.m. from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Base.
The launch was part of Boeing’s orbital flight test, or OFT mission, during which the spacecraft was scheduled to launch, autonomously dock at the International Space Station and then return to Earth, landing in the New Mexico desert.
After the mission went awry, Starliner will come back to Earth, landing in White Sands, New Mexico, likely Sunday morning.
Starliner is one of two spacecraft part of NASA’s commercial crew program undergoing testing to fly U.S. astronauts, hopefully, as soon as next year.
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Here are the latest updates on the Starliner mishap:
9:45 a.m. Starliner coming back down for landing
9 a.m. Spacecraft burned too much fuel to maintain ‘precise control’
In a series of tweets NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft experienced a problem after launch and missed its orbital insertion burn which is when the spacecraft fires its engines to catch up to the space station’s orbit.
The anomaly caused the spacecraft to believe that it was in an orbital insertion burn, when it was not, Bridenstine said.
“Because Starliner believed it was in an orbital insertion burn (or that the burn was complete), the dead bands were reduced and the spacecraft burned more fuel than anticipated to maintain precise control,” Bridenstine said. “This precluded the space station rendezvous.”
To stay within the dead bands would mean better control over the spacecraft.
The administrator did not say what caused the problem in the first place.
“We are getting good burns and are elevating the orbit of the spacecraft,” he said.
Boeing and NASA officials are expected to provide an update at 9:30 a.m. ET, however, that time has changed several times since it was first announced.
7:35 a.m. Starliner won’t make it to ISS
In a tweet, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Starliner missed the orbit insertion burn needed to catch up to the International Space Station.
“Starliner in stable orbit. The burn needed for a rendezvous with the ISS did not happen. Working the issue,” Bridenstine said.
Boeing, NASA and ULA will hold a news conference at 9:30 a.m.
7:15 a.m. Orbit insertion delayed
Starliner has not completed a required orbit insertion burn, according NASA. The spacecraft is currently using its thrusters to move in space.
The orbit insertion is required to keep the spacecraft from falling back to Earth.
Starliner has an off-nominal insertion, but we have spacecraft control. The guidance and control team is assessing their next maneuver.— Boeing Space (@BoeingSpace) December 20, 2019
NASA officials said the spacecraft is in a stable orbit and launch control is working through what the “next best options will be.”
“Starliner has an off-nominal insertion, but we have spacecraft control,” Boeing said in a tweet. “The guidance and control team is assessing their next maneuver.”
6:45 a.m. Go Starliner, Go Atlas
Boeing's new Starliner capsule rocketed toward the International Space Station on its first test flight Friday, a crucial dress rehearsal for next year's inaugural launch with astronauts.
The Starliner carried Christmas treats and presents for the six space station residents, hundreds of tree seeds similar to those that flew to the moon on Apollo 14, the original air travel ID card belonging to Boeing's founder and a mannequin named Rosie in the commander's seat.
The test dummy — named after the bicep-flexing riveter of World War II — wore a red polka dot hair bandanna just like the original Rosie and Boeing's custom royal blue spacesuit.
"She's pretty tough. She's going to take the hit for us," said NASA's Mike Fincke, one of three astronauts who will fly on the next Starliner and, as test pilots, take the hit for future crews.
As the astronauts watched from nearby control centers, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the capsule blasted off just before sunrise from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It was a one-day trip to the space station, putting the spacecraft on track for a docking Saturday morning.
This was Boeing’s chance to catch up with SpaceX, NASA’s other commercial crew provider that completed a similar demonstration last March. SpaceX has one last hurdle — a launch abort test — before carrying two NASA astronauts in its Dragon capsule, possibly by spring.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.