NASA Blasts Boeing's Software Certification Process: Missed "Potentially Catastrophic" Glitch

In what is clearly not a good sign for the ongoing re-certification of the disastrous 737 MAX, Boeing faced more criticism this week as a NASA safety panel recommended a review of the planemaker's software verification processes after revealing there was a second software problem during a CST-100 Starliner test flight that could have led to a “catastrophic” failure.

As SpaceNews.com reports, during a Feb. 6 meeting of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, that examined the December uncrewed test flight of Starliner that was cut short by a timer error, NASA officials said:

"While this anomaly was corrected in flight, if it had gone uncorrected, it would have led to erroneous thruster firings and uncontrolled motion during [service module] separation for deorbit, with the potential for a catastrophic spacecraft failure."

Those problems, Paul Hill said, suggested broader issues with how Boeing develops and tests the software used by the spacecraft.

“The panel has a larger concern with the rigor of Boeing’s verification processes,” he said.

The panel called for reviews of Boeing’s flight software integration and testing processes.

“Further, with confidence at risk for a spacecraft that is intended to carry humans in space, the panel recommends an even broader Boeing assessment of, and corrective actions in, Boeing’s [systems engineering and integration] processes and verification testing.”

NASA officials are still determining if another uncrewed test flight of the Boeing Starliner is needed before putting astronauts on board. But Boeing has already booked a $410 million Q4 charge in case NASA orders another uncrewed test flight.