The spacecraft has been facing software issues since it’s a flight in December
NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, or ASAP, hold quarterly teleconferences as they are an independent committee who have been entrusted with examining the safety of NASA programs and facilities on a broad level, right from the International Space Station and crewed spacecraft to the health and safety measures and long term health risks of astronauts.
The meetings are a way of providing insights into how ASAP is handling them, but they are usually uneventful.
That was when the term “catastrophic spacecraft failure” was brought along. This happened in the team’s meeting last Thursday.
The committee revealed that Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner has another software issue-one which wasn’t previously addressed by NASA or Boeing- a problem which could’ve put the spacecraft in jeopardy when it was taken out for its uncrewed test flight in December.
The Software issue
This was surely a surprise for all parties. As a member of ASAP, Paul Hill said the engineers had detected the second problem during ground testing while the spacecraft was still in orbit. Thankfully, the problem was corrected before Starliner’s reentry.
If it hadn’t, it would’ve led to some incorrect thruster firings, which would cause uncontrollable service module desperation for deorbit, which would ultimately cause a catastrophic spacecraft failure.
Boeing stated that the joint NASA-Boeing independent review team had found a “valve mapping software issue” during the test flight, but didn’t realize that it could produce such grave consequences.
Boeing also said that they would be reverifying all the software that had been written for Starliner, which means checking about one million lines of code, to see if any further errors are found among them.
NASA will also be looking at the software development process to see if any anomalies can be detected and fixed.