Boeing’s new Starliner capsule ran into trouble and went off course in orbit minutes after blasting off on its first test flight.
Everything went flawlessly as the Atlas V rocket soared with the Starliner just before sunrise, in a crucial dress rehearsal for next year’s inaugural launch with astronauts.
But half an hour into the flight, Boeing reported that the capsule did not get into the position needed to get it to the International Space Station.
Officials said flight controllers were looking into all their options and stressed that the capsule was in a stable orbit.
Nasa chief Jim Bridenstine said in a tweet that the capsule burned up more fuel than planned and controllers were using the capsule’s thrusters to raise its orbit.
With less fuel on board, it puts the rest of the flight in jeopardy. The Starliner was supposed to reach the space station on Saturday and stay for a week.
“Safe and stable is the important thing right now,” Boeing spokeswoman Kelly Kaplan told reporters.
The United Launch Alliance rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and was visible for at least five minutes, its white contrail a brilliant contrast against the dark sky.
Thousands of spectators jammed the area to see Starliner’s premiere flight.
This was Boeing’s chance 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.
A successful Starliner demo could have seen Boeing launching astronauts by summer.
The US needs competition like this, Mr Bridenstine said on Thursday, to drive down launch costs, boost innovation and open space up to more people.
“We’re moving into a new era,” he said.
The Starliner is carrying Christmas treats and presents intended for the six space station residents, hundreds of tree seeds similar to those that flew to the moon on Apollo 14, the original air travel ID card belonging to Boeing’s founder and a mannequin named Rosie in the commander’s seat.
The test dummy — named after a famous American figure from the Second World War — wore a red polka dot hair bandanna just like the original Rosie, and Boeing’s custom royal blue spacesuit.