Boeing’s Starliner Fails To Reach Space Station

After a decade in development, the Boeing CST-100 “Starliner” lifted off from pad SLC-41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station a little before dawn this morning on its first ever flight. Officially referred to as the Boeing Orbital Flight Test (Boe-OFT), this uncrewed mission was intended to verify the spacecraft’s ability to navigate in orbit and safely return to Earth. It was also planned to be a rehearsal of the autonomous rendezvous and docking procedures that will ultimately be used to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station; a capability NASA has lacked since the 2011 retirement of the Space Shuttle.

Liftoff at 6:36 AM Eastern

Unfortunately, some of those goals are now unobtainable. Due to a failure that occurred just 30 minutes into the flight, the CST-100 is now unable to reach the ISS. While the craft remains fully functional and in a stable orbit, Boeing and NASA have agreed that under the circumstances the planned eight day mission should be cut short. While there’s still some hope that the CST-100 will have the opportunity to demonstrate its orbital maneuverability during the now truncated flight, the primary focus has switched to the deorbit and landing procedures which have tentatively been moved up to the morning of December 22nd.

While official statements from all involved parties have remained predictably positive, the situation is a crushing blow to both Boeing and NASA. Just days after announcing that production of their troubled 737 MAX airliner would be suspended, the last thing that Boeing needed right now was another high-profile failure. For NASA, it’s yet another in a long line of setbacks that have made some question if private industry is really up to the task of ferrying humans to space. This isn’t the first time a CST-100 has faltered during a test, and back in August, a SpaceX Crew Dragon was obliterated while its advanced launch escape system was being evaluated.

We likely won’t have all the answers until the Starliner touches down at the White Sands Missile Range and Boeing engineers can get aboard, but ground controllers have already started piecing together an idea of what happened during those first critical moments of the flight. The big question now is, will NASA require Boeing to perform a second Orbital Flight Test before certifying the CST-100 to carry a human crew?

Let’s take a look at what happened during this morning’s launch.

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Bicycle Racing In Space Could Be A Thing

It’s 2100 AD, and hackers and normals live together in mile-long habitats in the Earth-Moon system. The habitat is spun up so that the gravity inside is that of Earth, and for exercise, the normals cycle around on bike paths. But the hackers do their cycling outside, in the vacuum of space.

How so? With ion thrusters, rocketing out xenon gas as the propellant. And the source of power? Ultimately that’s the hackers’ legs, pedaling away at a drive system that turns two large Wimshurst machines.

Those Wimshurst machines then produce the high voltage needed for the thruster’s ionization as well as the charge flow. They’re also what gives the space bike it’s distinctly bicycle-like appearance. And based on the calculations below, this may someday work!

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Zero-G Experiments Will Make Some Pretty Pictures

Does a yo-yo work in zero-g? How about a paper airplane? These questions were answered in 1985 on the Space Shuttle Discovery, but reproduction of results is the cornerstone of the scientific method. [Rob] is about to reproduce some of the awesome zero-g pictures by riding on a vomit comet and taking a few pictures of water globes colliding.

For the last few months, [Rob] has had a standby ticket on the G-Force One, a plane that takes passengers on parabolic arcs to simulate microgravity. He was lucky as his standby ticket allowed him to take a few experiments on board, so [Rob] decided there’s just not enough awesome pictures of water colliding in zero-g.

He built a rig out of micro t-slot aluminum. A DSLR is mounted to the frame along with a few ‘test tubes’ containing water. When [Rob] blows through a tube, a small sphere of water will be released to collide with other object. Think of it as the nerd’s version of water splash photography.

Of course, a trip through zero-g wouldn’t be complete without a few more experiments. [Rob] plans on testing a few toys to see if yo-yos ‘sleep’ without gravity (they don’t), and if a grandfather clock works on the moon (there’s a month-long day, so kind of). We can’t wait to see [Rob]’s pictures once he comes back to Earth.