Boeing has successfully completed the final parachute test of the Starliner capsule. Despite a few deliberately disabled parachutes, the test vehicle landed according to plan. This brings Boeing closer to the point that it can transport astronauts to the ISS with the Starliner.
According to Boeing, this fifth qualification test of the parachute system of the Starliner was the most difficult to date. Two parachutes were deliberately disabled, and then a test version of the Starliner was released at an altitude of 12.2km. The descent to the ground lasted four minutes, with the other parachutes doing their job and the capsule landed on schedule in the White Sands Missile Range of the US Army. This location will be the most important landing site for space missions with the Starliner; Unlike the SpaceX counterpart, the Boeing capsule does not land in the water, but lands.
According to John Mulholland, the deputy director of Boeing’s Starliner project, this successful test means that a trip to the International Space Station will become a reality later this year and that the capsule will return to Earth safely. Boeing initially wanted to launch the unmanned Starliner aboard an Atlas V rocket in August, although earlier this month it indicated that it might be postponed to September. After that, the first manned flight could take place towards the end of the year, says Boeing. However, that will depend strongly on, among other things, the results of the first unmanned test flight.
The Starliner was developed for NASA’s Commercial Crew program, where astronauts go to the ISS with private space capsules. The program is intended to give the US the opportunity to go to the ISS itself and thereby break through dependence on the expensive Russian Soyuz seats. SpaceX is also part of the Commercial Crew program and has developed its own capsule, the Crew Dragon; in the long term both capsules must bring astronauts to the ISS.
SpaceX is slightly ahead of Boeing in terms of the schedule, since the Elon Musk company already performed its first unmanned test flight in March. He successfully connected to the ISS and landed in the sea again a week later. Incidentally, there is a good chance that both projects will experience a certain delay, partly due to the complexity. That is probably one of the reasons why NASA is considering buying more Russian seats in the Soyuz rocket. However, it is uncertain whether that will yield tickets enough for the ISS. As a result, a gap may arise in the event of too much delay, so that NASA cannot temporarily access the ISS.