Thankfully, no-one was injured, but SpaceX still had to make an official investigation into the failure and fix the underlying issue (a leaky valve).
"To put it bluntly the issue that we're dealing with is we have numerous process [inconsistencies] in the software design, development and test cycle for Starliner", Loverro said, adding that the "issues you all know about are indicators of the software problems, but they are likely only symptoms of the real problem".
The panel has recommended reviews of Boeing's software and testing processes as "required input for a formal NASA review to determine flight readiness for either another uncrewed flight test, or proceeding directly to a crewed test flight", and Boeing issued a statement on Thursday (Feb. 6) saying that it has accepted the recommendation from the panel. SpaceX successfully completed a launch abort test last month at Cape Canaveral.
Starliner's failing was the most up to date major problem for Boeing, which is still reeling from 2 deadly collisions of its 737 Max airplane. The Service Module (SM) Disposal Sequence was incorrectly translated into the SM Integrated Propulsion Controller (IPC). Neither NASA nor Boeing has released any summary of that independent team's work prior to the statement. The service module's thrusters were undoubtedly going to fire in the wrong sequence, driving it back into the crew module.
The two different configurations of the vehicle, one with crew and service modules together and one with separate modules, require two different assignments for the engines. This should be taken incredibly seriously, as such an anomaly could kill every person onboard the spacecraft through either damage to the heatshield or structural damage to the capsule.
"In all, NASA says its evaluation of this assignment has discovered" 11 top-priority corrective actions" for Boeing. Communications between Starliner and ground control are relayed using NASA's network of Tracking and Data Relay Satellites, but "high noise" interfered with those signals, Mulholland said.
Regardless, at the time the second software issue was found, Boeing teams, working with NASA, transmitted up a software patch to prevent the issue from happening.
The IRT is also making significant progress on understanding the command dropouts encountered during the mission and is further investigating methods to make the Starliner communications system more robust on future missions.
Patricia Sanders, chair of the panel, noted that NASA has made a decision to proceed with an "organizational safety assessment" with Boeing. "Our NASA oversight was insufficient. That's obvious and we recognize that", he said. Boeing's actions have resulted in widespread outrage, and other companies are rapidly exploiting the lack of trust or goodwill remaining for the brand. "I simply don't believe we have sufficient information now".
According to NASA and Boeing in the Friday afternoon teleconference, the second software issue was caught just hours before it would have destroyed Starliner when it attempted to reenter the atmosphere. Boeing will have to tread carefully in the following weeks, as both they and NASA decide what to do following this latest failure.