back to article Boeing comes clean on parachute borkage as the ISS crew is set to shrink

While astronomers winced and Musk's rocketeers cheered the deployment of another 60 Starlink satellites into Earth orbit, there was plenty of other action in the rocket-bothering world. Following the pad abort test of the CST-100 Starliner capsule, which both Boeing and NASA insist was a success, the aviation giant has …

  1. James 51 Silver badge

    On the moon by 2024? Sorry to say I'll believe that when I see it. Too many agendas pulling NASA in too many directions without enough funding to fulfill them. Hope to be proved wrong though.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Well cgi has got really good since 1969

      1. NoneSuch Silver badge

        "Of course, redundancies in the system meant the capsule descended safely on just two parachutes and had there been a crew onboard, the 'nauts would have been fine. The test, trumpeted Boeing, actually validated that redundancy and highlighted "the robust and redundant safety features" of Starliner."

        We design redundancy into our systems knowing the QA team have done slap-dash work and something is definitely going to go pear shaped.

        1. Alex in Tokyo

          "To design a spacecraft right takes an infinite amount of effort. This is why it's a good idea to design them to operate when some things are wrong"

          - from the excellent 'Akin's Laws of Spacecraft Design' (https://spacecraft.ssl.umd.edu/akins_laws.html)

        2. MrXavia
          Mushroom

          Boeing has damaged its credibility over the last few years with regards to quality and safety.

          While I am sure it is completely separate to their aircraft manufacture, it does make you wonder if the company itself has a cultural problems that are putting profit and speed ahead of safety.

          787 battery fires,

          737 Max crashes,

          and now parachute failure.

          1. phuzz Silver badge
            FAIL

            Hey now, the parachute didn't fail, it was whoever's job it was to correctly insert the pin which attached the main parachute to it's drogue that failed.

            And everyone who's job it was to check that the parachutes were connected to their drogues, they failed too.

            And possibly whoever designed a system that perhaps made it too easy to not properly connect the etc.

            (And everyone who reviewed and signed off on that design and so on and so forth.)

            What I'm getting at is that it's less a problem with the systems, and more a culture of failure and insufficient checks.

            1. Radio Wales
              FAIL

              What failed?

              Yes, and all that culminating in the end result: The Parachute failed. The cause was immaterial.

              One cannot take any part of a system in isolation because it was the end result that mattered.

              I can speculate that it was the built-in redundancy that led directly to the lackadaisical application of constructing the project. It's not really that important that I do my job correctly - there's back-up.

              Just imagine the fuss has there been three such failures all happening at the same time - possible.

              1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
                Facepalm

                Re: What failed?

                For want of a nail...

          2. MachDiamond Silver badge

            "787 battery fires,"

            The battery in question was from an outside contractor. IIRC, that contractor also supplied test reports to show they had been tested to Boeing spec. That issue has long since been corrected.

            1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

              Similarities?

              @MachDiamond

              If you replace "battery" with "type certification", "Boeing" with "FAA", and "outside contractor" with "Boeing", isn't there a similarity between the 787 fires and 737 Max crashes?

  2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Quality system

    The vehicle is designed to land safely with a failed parachute so they install a pre-failed one to meet the requirements

    Aviation stuff is like that, lots of strict procedures

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
      FAIL

      one would have expected an on-the-ball quality assurance team to have caught...

      I seem to recall that Boeing's QC team aren't too hot on other new flying things, either...

    2. Gonzo wizard
      FAIL

      Re: Quality system

      Processes clearly weren't followed if a pin was omitted. If you can omit one then why not omit two? Or event three? I mean it isn't like a Lego kit where there's the odd tiny spare part left at the end. If you've assembled a crew capsule and have parts left over... that should have rung alarms.

      (I'm reminded of a friend who took apart and reassembled a Mini engine years ago, ignored the left-over 'spares' and ended up down the scrap yard for a replacement quite quickly)

      So nobody noticed they only used two pins instead of three. And whoever performed QC... didn't. I'm sorry, if I were a potential passenger this wouldn't fill me with confidence.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Quality system

        If you don't like it you are free to use any of the other NASA contractors with production facilities in all the states whose Congress person voted for this.

        That's the benefit of free market capitalism

        1. 96percentchimp

          Re: Quality system

          That's the benefit of free market capitalism cronyism.

          FTFY.

      2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: Quality system

        As described in the article, the pin wasn't omitted, but it wasn't through the appropriate loop in the main chute. So they wouldn't have had any left-over bits... but there should certainly have been a different set of eyes checking this before it was signed off. Packing a parachute is for experts, and that's one reason why...

        1. Gonzo wizard
          FAIL

          Re: Quality system

          Fair point - "pin wasn't inserted properly" is different to "pin wasn't inserted". My bad.

          1. Flywheel Silver badge

            Re: Quality system

            It's a pin though - what could be more straightforward? "Pin, meet hole. Hole, meet Pin".

            1. DropBear Silver badge

              Re: Quality system

              Ever seen one of those magician tricks where something that's supposed to be hooked inextricably through a hoop just slides apart like nobody's business...? Threading a pin through the wrong part of a big pile of coiled rope such that it doesn't, in fact, engage securely with it is probably the easiest thing in the world, and nobody will know until you actually extend all of it under tension...

              1. Stoneshop Silver badge

                Re: Quality system

                Drogue chutes aren't hooked to "a big pile of rope", they get attached to the centre of the main chute's canopy so that deploying the drogue pulls the main chute out of its container in the most symmetrical way possible.

        2. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Quality system

          "Packing a parachute is for experts, and that's one reason why..."

          I wonder how hard they looked for the "expert" on this parachute system.

          This is why you test. Testing is where you make your mistakes and learn from them because for something like this, there are no experts with the specific experience.

    3. Tinslave_the_Barelegged
      Mushroom

      Re: Quality system

      Boeing: "It was pilot error..." Later: "Oh, sorry, wrong template - It was a QA error"

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Quality system

        It's pilot error if the pilot dies, otherwise it's an unfortunate set of 1 in a million (*) freak events that could never happen again

        * whicg of course occur 9 times out of 10 - (obPTrerry)

        1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

          Re: Quality system

          Indeed.

          If the pilot survives, he's a hero.

          If the plane is so unflyable that he and everyone else dies, the plane likely crashed due to pilot error.

          That's how Boeing managed to kill on extra plane load of people.

      2. danR2

        Re: Quality system

        The following assumes something about the quality-review that is not detailed in the article.

        The quality unassuring-assurance lies in the apparent static nature of the photographic documentation and review of assembly. There should be four hi-res video cameras above and around every assembly station, that loop-record 24/7. Nobody has to turn them on or off.

        No looking at stills. Too static: you could miss something that was not connected properly, because connecting is verbal, not nominal; it is an action, not a series of states.

        24 hours before test, 3 people will have watched the packing of the parachute second-by-second, minute-by-minute. Those will be the packers themselves. Seeing the connecting process as a streaming flow, they will be matching visually, and by kinaesthetic memory, what they are seeing by what they know to be correct.

        1. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: Quality system

          As per the article, once they looked at the static pictures they realised the pin hadn't been inserted correctly, so video isn't even needed, just care and attention.

    4. nematoad Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Quality system

      "This is something one would have expected an on-the-ball quality assurance team to have caught ahead of time."

      Nah, this is Boeing we are talking about.

      Delivery first, safety second.

      1. Erebus_77

        Re: Quality system

        One would argue that in this case (and the 737 MAX), they're doing neither

    5. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Quality system

      It would be a good bet that it will never happen again. Of course, several trees are going to die for all of the new paperwork.

  3. iron Silver badge

    > We are a step closer to landing the American astronauts on the Moon by 2024. With the final engine attached, technicians are now working inside the rocket to make all the final connections and complete assembly on the SLS core stage for Artemis I.

    Except Artemis 1 isn't going to the moon and the chance of NASA astronauts landing on the moon by 2024 is nil. None of the tech is ready, Congress won't fund it and SLS is good for nothing except keeping a certain senator from Alabama happy.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      It's going to space, the moon is in space, so it's all the same thing

      1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

        To a beancounter this can become reality! Nice one!

  4. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "That beast was, of course, hugely expensive and entirely unsustainable in its final form"

    Yeah, but it was also fucking awesome and it could lift 140 metric tons into orbit.

    Today's best lifter would apparently be the Falcon Heavy with up to 50 tons (taking into account only those rockets that have actually lifted something into orbit).

    There are a number of rockets promising to approach the venerable Saturn V's record, but none of them exist anywhere except on paper yet, so we'll just have to wait and see.

    1. Killfalcon Silver badge

      Re: "That beast was, of course, hugely expensive and entirely unsustainable in its final form"

      You say "unsustainable expensive" and I hear "phenomenally loud fire-stick that will accelerate a house to a dozen kilometres per second".

    2. steelpillow Silver badge

      Re: "That beast was, of course, hugely expensive and entirely unsustainable in its final form"

      So three Falcon heavies can lift about the same as a Saturn V. I wonder which costs more and/or carries the greater risk, three Falcons and a bit of docking or one big [censored]parent-abuser and go for a beer?

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
        Devil

        Re: "That beast was, of course, hugely expensive and entirely unsustainable in its final form"

        Project Orion is clearly the safest and best option. Will lift much higher payloads to orbit - and is mechanically much simpler. Everything's easy apart from the multiple nuclear bombs...

        There are a few downsides. I mean the launch is going to be much louder than a Saturn V, and people living near the launch site may object. But these are footling little problems in comparison to the top science you get to do.

        Plus Orion laughs at your house-lifting capabilities, as you can use it to lift a factory or hotel if you so choose. Or perhaps a Space Battleship?

        Admittedly the pub you need to retire to will have to be at a much safer distance. But that just gives you more opportunity to drive your customised V8 at great speed. You do have a customised V8 right? With massive chromed fins on it? No? What kind of lousy excuse for a rocket engineer are you?!?!

        1. AdamT

          Re: "That beast was, of course, hugely expensive and entirely unsustainable in its final form"

          As long as you call the Space Battleship "Michael"

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "That beast was, of course, hugely expensive and entirely unsustainable in its final form"

            Don't forget to stick a few space shuttles on there as well to act as gunships.

        2. Alister Silver badge

          Re: "Project Orion"

          There are a few downsides. I mean the launch is going to be much louder than a Saturn V, and people living near the launch site may object.

          But not for very long... The radiation keeps them quiet eventually.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: "Project Orion"

            >The radiation keeps them quiet eventually.

            It's Florida - would anyone notice?

            1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

              Re: "Project Orion"

              Are you referring to Florida Man or to the orange mutant that's known to lurk in those parts?

      2. MrXavia

        Re: "That beast was, of course, hugely expensive and entirely unsustainable in its final form"

        And the Falcon heavies are mostly reusable, only the upper stages are not recoverable!

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: "That beast was, of course, hugely expensive and entirely unsustainable in its final form"

          It's only recoverable if there is margin between mission needs and capability of the rocket. For something like going to the moon, every erg of capability will be needed so the booster is going into the drink and not being reused.

    3. Gonzo wizard

      Re: Except on paper

      Granted it hasn't flown yet but SpaceX's BFR has most definitely made it off the drawing board even if the prototype has yet to fly (should be sometime quite soon). It is designed to loft 100 tons and take it all the way to the moon or 150 tons as far as low earth orbit. Both are in excess of what the Saturn V achieved but yeah, let's not count our chickens.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Except on paper

        Starship isn't BFR.

        1. rg287 Silver badge

          Re: Except on paper

          It's a fairly key component of it.

          And the Hopper platform has allowed (limited) flight testing of the Raptor engine - which is more than can be said of the BE-4 which underpins both of the other "big" new rockets (Blue Origin's New Glenn and Boeing's Vulcan).

  5. Baldrickk Silver badge

    I was looking into seat costs in the Soyuz.

    To put one US astronaut into space on one, the price of that seat alone covers the entire cost of the launch vehicle and the ground control and maintenance of the same, with money left over.

    By having just one seat taken by the US, Russia gets to put everything they want into space for essentially negative cost.

    Like being a dog-sitter, but your clients also pay you to look after your own dogs in addition to their own.

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Well, to be fair, the price a dog sitter charges would probably pay for a weeks worth of food or more. :P

    2. Radio Wales
      Mushroom

      That's good business, isn't it? Something learned from the US code of ethics.

    3. asdf Silver badge

      Look if the F35 and Little Crappy Ships proved anything its that at least if we blow the money on the Russians we mostly get people into space and back. Else like the Boeing virtual border fence if we do it ourselves with so many heads in the trough we spend the vast sums of money and still haven't left the ground. Honestly with the Boomers in charge now not sure if the US could successfully go to the moon for any amount of money these days. I gots to get mine first.

    4. MachDiamond Silver badge

      "To put one US astronaut into space on one, the price of that seat alone covers the entire cost of the launch vehicle and the ground control and maintenance of the same, with money left over."

      Supply and demand. Every service supplier charges all the market will bear. If you are the only tradesman that can do certain restoration work on Grade 1 listed buildings, you don't charge peanuts or take any poo. You charge the moon and take long lunches.

  6. Pete 2

    Going backwards?

    November 9 was the fifty-second anniversary of the first Saturn V launch.

    It would seem that in the USA, state-sponsored rocketry has made no progress in that half century and may even be going backwards. That launch was a success!

    In perspective, the 50 years from 1919 to 1969 saw commercial aircraft development go from wooden bi-planes to the 747.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Going backwards?

      I don't think you can say that US rocketry is going backwards. NASA has created its COTS program specifically to attract private companies into the market and this has succeeded very well. Boeing have built them a capsule for ISS duty - I don't know if they've got plans to use this for any other jobs. SpaceX have used the money/guaranteed contracts to help fund first the Falcon 9 (with cargo Dragon) and then the Crew Dragon programs. Obviously they've also got other sources of income from Falcon - which is doing very well in private space launches too.

      But SpaceX have been very innovative - and are currently top of the technology tree - given they can do reusability which nobody else in the world can. OK it's private, but not sure it would have happened without NASA contracts.

      There's also Cygnus, but I got the impression they were rather less sustainable, as they were using a stock of old Soviet engines - with only the rights to manufacture their own, which they hadn't taken up. I've lost track of where they're up to.

      Then you've got the ULA who used to do all the horribly over-priced stuff and had little incentive to improve. They're contracted to use Blue Origin's new shiny engines - and once those are perfected you'll also have Blue Origin kicking around with re-usable technology.

      Obviously SLS isn't an exciting technical development, as it's using re-usable shuttle engines, then throwing them away. But NASA has never been the monolithic enterprise that built all its own stuff anyway.

      The nice thing this gives you is the option to just buy in what you need. And only develop new technologies if the capabilities you want don't already exist. And even then, you can pay someone else some of the development costs in order to get access to something they want to develop anyway, but may not have the funds for. I'd say US space tech is in rude health. Just a few of the old dinosaurs like ULA look like they're in trouble if they don't up their game. Hopefully meaning better and/or cheaper stuff for NASA to use.

    2. Snowy Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Going backwards?

      Then back to the 737 Max sounds like the same kind of "progress"?

    3. druck Silver badge

      Re: Going backwards?

      In perspective, the 50 years from 1919 to 1969 saw commercial aircraft development go from wooden bi-planes to the 747.

      Correction; it went from wooden bypanes, to supersonic passenger aircraft, Concorde's first flight was 2nd March 1969. We've certainly gone backwards since Concorde and the Shuttle flew for the last time.

  7. LeahroyNake Silver badge

    Whoopsy

    I thought there would have been a written procedure for installing this pin in the correct way with pictures. At a minimum it should have been installed and checked off as complete by one person and then checked by another and signed off again.

    Shouldn't they be doing this for every part anyway considering it is rocket science? The fact that they had a picture of the fault before it was launched suggests a certain amount of (half) arse(d) covering going on.

    1. Baldrickk Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Whoopsy

      Rocket science is "easy" - it's the rocket engineering that is hard

      - I've read this somewhere. - it's all very well knowing the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation, but then you have to successfully put it into practice, including all the little things like what two things need to be attached to each other, and you need to do it correctly, consistently.

      So I would say that this is a failure in the rocket engineering :P

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Whoopsy

      "I thought there would have been a written procedure for installing this pin in the correct way with pictures. At a minimum it should have been installed and checked off as complete by one person and then checked by another and signed off again."

      Maybe the sub-contracted the instruction manual to IKEA.

  8. fishman

    Saturn V

    "That beast was, of course, hugely expensive and entirely unsustainable in its final form."

    The Saturn V cost around $1B per in 2019 dollars. The SLS will cost as much as $2B per.

  9. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    UK Spaceports in Cornwall and Scotland?

    That should be interesting after they're both independent! Perhaps the English govt should be investing in a "horizontal launch capability" in Norfolk? Very flat, Norfolk.

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: UK Spaceports in Cornwall and Scotland?

      Hey, don't Diss Norfolk...

      1. Alister Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: UK Spaceports in Cornwall and Scotland?

        Well played!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: UK Spaceports in Cornwall and Scotland?

        Good news is, as Norfolk is off the map, the Dv launch budget is less...

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "UK Space Agency showering Virgin Orbit UK with £7.35m"

    That's an A-series size investment, not very impressive for an established company.

    1. Mike Richards

      Re: "UK Space Agency showering Virgin Orbit UK with £7.35m"

      Branson’s really good at getting taxpayers to cover his costs isn’t he? (See also Spaceport America in New Mexico - https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/03/new-mexicos-sad-bet-on-space-exploration/554243/)

  11. Alan Brown Silver badge

    There's an adage for this

    "Close enough for government work"

    Of course, this is the same Boeing that's been sealing tools and junk inside aircraft delivered to the USAF

  12. Flywheel Silver badge

    For the Few, Not the Many

    UK government is additionally spanking £31.5m on vertical launch services at spaceport in Sutherland, Scotland

    Boris and chums are obviously thinking ahead to the time when most of England is flooded on a regular basis so they'll need to escape to a place of safety.

    1. EnviableOne Silver badge

      Re: For the Few, Not the Many

      have you seen the site in sutherland, it doesnt even have a road on it at the minute and its closest one has one lane in either direction in some places, and just one in most.

      but to be fair there's plenty wind power about, but I think the average wind speed in the area might make virticle launch an issue.

  13. This post has been deleted by its author

  14. Eastander

    LOHAN to launch from Cornwall instead now?

    Given the US has still not given you permission to launch LOHAN from America, maybe you should bring it back and launch it from Scotland or Cornwall?

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