Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft has landed safely back on earth after an incorrectly set clock meant a planned docking with the International Space Station had to be abandoned.
The unmanned capsule came down at the White Sands Missile Range in the New Mexico desert – a trio of red, white and blue parachutes and airbags easing the impact.
“We pinpoint landed it,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, after a two-day test flight that was meant to last a week.
Holiday presents, clothes and food that should have been delivered to the six crew members on the space station came back with it.
Nevertheless, Boeing flight director Richard Jones described the mission – which was a test run for a future manned trip – as a “huge success”.
About half an hour into its flight on Friday the craft failed to fire its thrusters – which would have sent it towards the ISS.
Consequently it ended up in the wrong orbit.
Its internal clock failed to sync with the Atlas V rocket carrying it and was off by 11 hours, Boeing’s Jim Chilton said.
The capsule subsequently burned so much fuel trying to orient itself in orbit that there was not enough left to reach the space station.
Flight controllers were unable to make a correction because their signals did not get through, but they did later manage to reset the clock.
Engineers are now trying to work out how the timing error came about.
“We didn’t do everything we wanted to do, but we don’t see anything wrong with this spaceship right now,” Mr Chilton said.
He apologised to the ISS crew for not delivering their Christmas presents.
This time, instead of real astronauts, a test dummy named Rosie the Rocketeer rode in the commander’s seat.
Boeing has been considering a first launch with live astronauts in the first half of 2020.
“We’ve got a lot of learning in front of us,” Mr Bridenstine said.
“But we have enough information and data to keep moving forward in a very positive way.”
Author: Adam Rittenberg