By Shawn Chitnis

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (CBS/AP) — Centennial-based United Launch Alliance said Friday their role in carrying Boeing’s Starliner capsule with the Atlas V rocket accomplished its goal on the Orbital Flight Test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The capsule ended up in the wrong orbit after separating from the Atlas V rocket on its first test flight Friday, a blow to Boeing’s effort to launch astronauts for NASA next year.

Boeing's new Starliner capsule ended up in the wrong orbit after lifting off on its first test flight Friday.

Boeing’s new Starliner capsule ended up in the wrong orbit after lifting off on its first test flight Friday. (credit: NASA)

NASA canceled the Starliner’s docking with the International Space Station, instead focusing on a hastier than planned return to Earth. The Starliner will parachute into its landing site in the New Mexico desert on Sunday.

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Officials stressed the capsule was stable and safe, and that had astronauts been aboard, they would have been in no danger. A crew may have been able to take over control and salvage the mission.

(credit: NASA)

NASA explained Friday that while the launch was successful, there was a miscalculation that released too much fuel by the spacecraft preventing it from linking with the International Space Station. This was the 81st launch of an Atlas V rocket and the 136th successful launch overall by ULA.

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(credit: ulalaunch.com)

“We had a successful launch and initial indications are that we demonstrated the launch vehicle test objectives, performance enhancements, and the mission unique modifications developed for the safety of human spaceflight,” said Tory Bruno, President and CEO of United Launch Alliance in a statement. “We achieved spacecraft separation as planned. We will continue to support our Boeing and NASA partners as they work to bring Starliner home.”

 

The test flight was a major setback for Boeing, which had been hoping to catch up with SpaceX, NASA’s other commercial crew provider that successfully completed a similar demonstration last March. SpaceX has one last hurdle — a launch abort test — before carrying two NASA astronauts in its Dragon capsule, possibly by spring.

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center on February 6, 2018 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Both NASA and Boeing plan to address the test in a teleconference on Saturday. The next launch with the ULA rocket is scheduled for Feb. 5, 2020.

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(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press, Marcia Dunn and Cathy Bussewitz contributed to this report.)

Shawn Chitnis