On Wednesday, January 8, the Starliner that flew the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test returned safely to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After launching from Cape Canaveral on December 20, 2019, and landing at the White Sands Missile Range on December 22, the Starliner was recovered and prepared for shipment across the country, and then left the desert on January 3.
In general, the plan for post-flight processing of this spacecraft is as follows:
- Thorough external inspection
- Hatch opening and visual verification the seal is in good shape and will keep pressure integrity and people safe as the telemetry data indicates
- Interior inspection and verification the capsule is as clean as the telemetry data would indicate
- Removal of cover panels and some key components across systems including avionics, propulsion and life support, detailed inspection and verification of those key components after first flight
- Detailed inspection of chutes, rigging and airbags with emphasis on unexpected chafing and wear-and-tear
- Assessment of how heat loading during ascent and entry affected docking system and capsule sidewalls, will compare results against pre-flight thermal models
- Transition to standard post-flight refurbishment and pre-flight testing
In parallel, technicians will continue preparing another Starliner crew and service module for the next flight. That vehicle is currently in the final assembly and processing phases. Starliner engineers and analysts are also working on compiling and understanding all the data collected from the Orbital Flight Test, and together with our NASA customer, the data will be reviewed and decisions will be made based on what is learned. As this process continues, we will provide updates as timely and as accurately as possible, including initial results from external inspections and thermal assessments as early as this week.
In the meantime, an independent Boeing-NASA team has been formed and are reviewing the software anomaly to determine root cause and recommend corrective actions. Additionally, individual teams are evaluating data and conducting comprehensive system-by-system reviews as part of the normal post-flight test process. Boeing teams now have access to and are currently compiling results from the last of the data recorded during flight.
- Compiling the specialized development measurements and comparing them to telemetry data to assess timing and consistency
- Some demonstration flight instrumentation (DFI) results revealing hull temp and strains, indicating structural integrity and accuracy of design forecasts
- Correlation of any visual inspection or data observations with the full set available
- Detailed reviews are underway in partnership with NASA, which we expect to wrap up in a few weeks