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Boeing's Starliner Spacecraft Launch Hits Snag; Will Return to Earth

A lot of things went right with the highly anticipated launch, though failure to make it into the orbit sought by Boeing and NASA means it's coming home.

Embattled aircraft maker Boeing  (BA) - Get The Boeing Company Report got more bad news on Friday, rounding out a tough year after the highly anticipated launch of its Starliner spacecraft started off successfully, but failed to make it into the orbit sought by Boeing and NASA.

An Atlas V rocket vaulted the Boeing test spacecraft into orbit at 6:36 a.m. ET, with Boeing officials confirming about 15 minutes after launch that Starliner had detached from the rocket as expected.

However, the spacecraft was then supposed to conduct an "orbital insertion burn," which would orient the spacecraft on the correct path toward the International Space Station. 

About 90 minutes after blastoff, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said on Twitter that the capsule will not be able to reach the space station because it burned too much fuel to get the spacecraft back on course.

"Despite launching successfully at 6:36 a.m. EST Friday on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is not in its planned orbit," NASA said in a blog post

At a press conference shortly after 9:30 a.m. ET, Boeing and NASA officials confirmed that the Starliner is currently in an orbit that will allow it to turned back to Earth in 48 hours, which in of itself will be an important test of the landing system. 

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Once on the ground, teams will be better able to figure out what happened on board the spacecraft with the so-called Mission Elapsed Timer (MET) error, Boeing said.

The troubled test launch came as more bad news for Boeing, which has suffered both delays and expense in trying to right the troubled 737 MAX jet and get it re-certified to fly. 

The plane was grounded worldwide in March following two fatal crashes that killed a combined 346 people and prompted the longest flying ban for a U.S. airliner ever.

Boeing said in July it had taken a $5.6 billion pretax charge to cover potential costs incurred by airline customers because of the grounding. The aircraft maker currently has some 400 737 MAX jets in storage.

Investors didn't immediately react to the intergalactic hiccup, with shares of Boeing down slightly 0.53% at $331.72 in morning trading.