FILE PHOTO: The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, atop a ULA Atlas V rocket, lifts off for an uncrewed Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station from launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida December 20, 2019. REUTERS/Thom Baur/File Photo
(Reuters) – The Boeing Co Starliner spacecraft that failed to hit the right orbit to reach the International Space Station is “healthy,” in a stable orbit and expected to land in New Mexico on Sunday morning, NASA said on Saturday.
The Boeing (BA.N) CST-100 Starliner astronaut capsule was successfully launched from Florida on Friday, but an automated timer error prevented the spacecraft from attaining the correct orbit for it to rendezvous and dock with the space station.
NASA and Boeing officials said on a Saturday conference call they are still investigating the causes of the failure.
The Starliner’s debut launch to orbit was a milestone test for Boeing, which is vying with SpaceX, the privately held rocket company of billionaire high-tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, to revive NASA’s human spaceflight capabilities. SpaceX carried out a successful unmanned flight of its Crew Dragon capsule to the space station in March.
The Starliner setback came as Boeing, whose shares dropped 1.6% Friday, sought an engineering and public relations victory in a year punctuated by a corporate crisis over the grounding of its 737 MAX jetliner following two fatal crashes of that aircraft.
The implications for any further design and testing requirements before Starliner is approved for its first crewed mission also remained unclear. The prospect that Boeing might need to repeat an unmanned orbital test flight could substantially delay NASA’s timeline and drive up costs.
Reporting by Joey Roulette in Orlando, Florida, writing by Brad Brooks; Editing by Scott Malone, Sonya Hepinstall and Steve Orlofsky