Boeing tries to catch up to SpaceX after plenty of drama
Boeing tries to catch up to SpaceX after plenty of drama
Boeing is the world's largest aerospace company, a primary U.S. defence contractor, and a titan of a global aviation duopoly. A few years ago, the idea that it would dominate commercial space was a given, and companies like SpaceX, a relatively young business relying on a strategy of moving fast and breaking things, would take a back seat to the move level-headed and experienced Boeing.
That, however, did not come to fruition.
Errors, delays and failures beleaguered the spacecraft's development. There was a botched test flight, software issues, sticky valves and a lawsuit involving an executive at a subcontractor who is said to have lost his leg during a Starliner test.
After initially giving SpaceX closer scrutiny than Boeing, officials later said they regretted that as many of Starliner's issues slipped through the cracks. SpaceX, Elon Musk's relatively new entrant into the spaceflight business, ultimately beat Boeing to the launch pad. The company's Crew Dragon spacecraft has now logged six astronaut launches for NASA since it entered service in 2020.
Meanwhile, Boeing is still trying to get through an uncrewed test flight. The company will make its second attempt this week, hoping a flawless performance will mend its image as the fallen star of human spaceflight.
The controversies surrounding Starliner have also added to other woes within Boeing's commercial aircraft division that have chipped away at the company's formerly rock-solid image over the past several years.
Here's a look back at Starliner's trying past.
In 2014, NASA awarded fixed-price contracts — meaning the space agency would only pay the initial agreed-upon price and not a penny more — to Boeing and SpaceX. The move cemented their slots as the companies that would take NASA astronauts back to space under the Commercial Crew program. Boeing's awards totalled US$4.2 billion, a significant markup compared to the $2.6 billion SpaceX was given, though the company has said that's because SpaceX had already received millions for development of an uncrewed version of its Dragon vehicle.
Though both spacecrafts were expected to blast astronauts into space just a few years later, as the end of the decade neared, it became clear that SpaceX was outpacing Boeing.
When the company's first uncrewed orbital flight test, dubbed OFT-1, reached the launch pad in December 2019, SpaceX had already beaten it by six months.
And almost immediately after Starliner launched on December 20, 2019, it was clear something was wrong.
Later, it was revealed that Starliner's internal clock was off by 11 hours, which caused the spacecraft to misfire and stumble off course, NASA and Boeing officials told reporters. Starliner was forced to make an early return to Earth.
Months later, a second serious software issue was revealed, with one government safety official saying it could have caused a "catastrophic failure." Boeing was able to identify and correct the error before it impacted Starliner's behavior, however.
Boeing agreed to fix the issues and pay for a second attempt at the uncrewed test flight, setting aside nearly half a billion dollars. Months of troubleshooting, safety reviews and investigations followed the test flight.
FORMER ASTRONAUT PULLS OUT OF MISSION
Former NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson, who left the government astronaut corps in 2011 to help Boeing design and build the Starliner, was slated to command the first crewed mission of Starliner as a private astronaut. But after the failure of its inaugural flight test, Ferguson announced he could no longer fly on the vehicle, citing scheduling conflicts.
NASA and Boeing made the announcement in late 2020, saying Ferguson made the decision for "personal reasons." Ferguson said in a follow-up tweet that he planned to prioritize his family, and he "made several commitments which I simply cannot risk missing."
Though the crewed mission has been rescheduled several times, there do not appear to be plans to return Ferguson to the mission.
A NASA astronaut, Barry "Butch" Wilmore, was assigned to take Ferguson's place.
STICKY VALVES AND FLORIDA HUMIDITY
Boeing believed it was ready to put Starliner back to the test last year, and it scheduled a second attempt at the orbital flight test — this one dubbed OFT-2 — for August.
More problems quickly arose. When the spacecraft was rolled out to its launch pad and began going through pre-flight ground checks, engineers discovered that key valves on the Starliner were sticking. Eventually Boeing announced that the problem could not be fixed on the launch pad, and the whole vehicle had to be rolled back to the assembly building for further troubleshooting.
By mid-August, Boeing had given up trying to fix the issues on site. The Starliner had to be sent all the way back to Boeing's factory.
In press conferences leading up to Thursday's test fight, Boeing officials revealed that they will fly OFT-2 this week with a "short-term" fix in place, but the company may ultimately opt to redesign the valve system.
Adding to the questions surrounding Boeing's safety practices as Starliner heads back to the launch pad this week is a recent report from Reuters, which highlighted a previously overlooked lawsuit filed against Boeing last year by a subcontractor who was said to have his leg partially amputated after an accident that occurred ahead of a 2017 Starliner parachute test.
Boeing confirmed in a statement that a lawsuit was filed on behalf of the employee and the subcontractor. "The matter was settled by all of the parties; the terms of the settlement are confidential," the statement reads.
Court documents confirm the matter was settled in December 2021.
MORE SCI-TECH NEWS
Dan Riskin on the ecological impact of invasive earthworms
Dan Riskin on whether or not rainforests can bounce back
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Many Canadians remain unaware of the involvement of forced child labour in the products they buy, according to non-profit agency World Vision Canada.
Hundreds of protesters descended on the U.S. Supreme Court on Saturday to denounce the justice's decision to overturn the half-century-old Roe v. Wade precedent that recognized women's constitutional right to abortion.
As Pride festivities kick off around the world, many refugees are celebrating the LGBTQ2S+ community for the first time.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau headed to the G7 summit in Germany on Saturday without a consensus from the Commonwealth to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but with a chorus of countries calling for help to overcome the fallout of the war.
The World Health Organization said the escalating monkeypox outbreak in nearly 50 countries should be closely monitored but does not warrant being declared a global health emergency.
After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday, holding that there is no longer a federal constitutional right to an abortion, protesters and supporters of the ruling gathered at the high court's building in Washington, D.C., and in other cities nationwide.
With the nation's capital bracing for anticipated anti-mandate 'freedom' movement protests during Canada Day weekend, interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen says her MPs are free to attend.
A barge that ran aground near Vancouver's English Bay last year quickly became an accidental attraction, drawing selfie-seekers and inspiring T-shirt designs. But after seven months, residents seem to have grown weary of its hulking presence on the shoreline.
Ukraine's largest LGBTQ rights event, KyivPride, is going ahead on Saturday. But not on its native streets and not as a celebration.
As gas prices and food costs continue to escalate and another interest rate hike is expected next month, many Canadians are wondering if a recession is coming and how to prepare for a possible economic downturn.
The family of Chelsea Cardno says the body found on flooded farmland adjacent to Mission Creek Friday night has been identified as the missing Kelowna woman.
U.S. President Joe Biden on Saturday signed the most sweeping gun violence bill in decades, a bipartisan compromise that seemed unimaginable until a recent series of mass shootings, including the massacre of 19 students and two teachers at a Texas elementary school.
In 2010, U.S. Senator James Lankford testified that he believed a 13-year-old could consent to sex.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday he aims to remain in power until the middle of the next decade, despite calls for him to quit, which would make him the country's longest continuously serving leader in 200 years.
He took his school to the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1980s for pulling 'objectionable' books. Here's his message to young people
Steven Pico, who 40 years ago joined a legal fight against his school board's banning of 'objectionable' books to the U.S. Supreme Court when he was 17, says the 'freedom to read a book is the foundation of our democracy.'
A gunman opened fire in Oslo's nightlife district early Saturday, killing two people and leaving more than 20 wounded in what the Norwegian security service called an 'Islamist terror act' during the capital's annual LGBTQ Pride festival.
Now that the House and Senate have adjourned for the summer, CTVNews.ca breaks down what key pieces of legislation passed in the final days of the spring session, and what key government bills will be left to deal with in the fall.
Tanya Ball began her career as a social worker for the Kaska Dene First Nation. Now she runs a land guardian program, working to monitor and protect a vast stretch of the band's northern British Columbia wilderness.
New research has found that women are 'significantly' more likely than men to suffer from long COVID syndrome, in addition to developing different symptoms of the disease.
The Ontario Brain Institute is playing a key role in open science and brain health research with the release of new clinical data that will help scientists around the world advance investigations into pediatric neurological conditions.
German lawmakers voted Friday to end the country's ban on advertising abortions, which has in the past led to doctors being prosecuted for providing information about the procedure to potential patients.
A team of biologists recently hauled in the heaviest Burmese python ever captured in Florida, officials said.
Coinciding with unrelenting cyberattacks against Ukraine, state-backed Russian hackers have engaged in "strategic espionage" against governments, think tanks, businesses and aid groups in 42 countries supporting Kyiv, Microsoft said in a report Wednesday.
NASA's first spacecraft designed to study a metallic asteroid won't be launching this year as planned, according to an announcement made by the agency on Friday.
Paul McCartney was joined by special guests Bruce Springsteen and Dave Grohl in an epic performance at Glastonbury on Saturday night that spanned the first Beatles demo to some of his latest recordings.
Phoebe Bridgers vented her frustration at America's high court during her Glastonbury Festival set on Friday night after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
A 15-month dispute in British Columbia's film and television industry has ended with the ratification of a new contract for creative and logistical staff working on productions shot in the province.
Statistics Canada says the number of job vacancies at the beginning of April hit just over one million, up more than 40 per cent compared with a year earlier.
Despite record low levels of unemployment, many sectors are suffering from labour shortages in the second quarter with restaurants and hotels continuing to be amongst the worst hit, a new Statistics Canada survey finds.
After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Friday to overturn Roe v. Wade, corporate giants from a range of industries pledged to provide support and financial assistance for employees — and, in some cases, their dependents — seeking abortions in states that outlaw the procedure.
An act of kindness from a Winnipeg bus driver is being shared by a passenger who says it warmed his heart to witness.
A new painting of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge was revealed to the public on Thursday. The painting – the first official portrait of Prince William and his wife, Catherine, together – is on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, U.K.
Mounties in Coquitlam are appealing to the public for help tracking down two pieces of artwork that were allegedly stolen from a high school art display.
Canadians Bennedict Mathurin and Shaedon Sharpe took very different paths to the NBA, but their pro dreams were realized just minutes apart on Thursday.
Major League Baseball's Houston Astros have thrown a combined no-hitter against the New York Yankees on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
The U.S. House on Friday passed a bipartisan resolution calling on the Russian government to immediately release WNBA star Brittney Griner.
Toyota is recalling 2,700 bZ4X crossover vehicles globally for wheel bolts that could become loose, in a major setback for the Japanese automaker's ambitions to roll out electric cars.
A majority of Canadians who intend to travel this summer say high gas prices are affecting those planned getaways, a pair of recent surveys show.
Two people involved in testing for the electric car brand NIO died when one of its vehicles fell three stories from a Shanghai parking structure, the company said Friday.