Parachute fails to deploy during Starliner capsule ‘pad abort’ test

Boeing has completed a successful pad abort test with an unmanned Starliner capsule. During the test, the spacecraft’s rescue system was tried. One parachute failed to deploy.

The Starliner test took place Monday afternoon at Boeing’s own test area in White Sands, New Mexico. A capsule including a service module, but without astronauts, took off there. During the test, it was checked whether the capsule’s escape system is working properly. This is activated if something goes wrong with the rocket during launch. The escape system then pulls the capsule free from the missile and brings it to safety. This time the test took place directly from the ground and not from a rocket. It is intended that the capsule can land safely even after such a launch interruption.

The Starliner capsule flew 1,300 meters into the air during the test and landed about two kilometers from the launch pad. In the short flight time, the spaceship reached a speed of just over a thousand kilometers per hour. After nineteen seconds, the rescue system was deployed, with the capsule undergoing an acceleration of 5G for about five seconds.

During the landing, two of the three parachutes deployed. That can become a problem for the program. The Starliner can in principle safely land a crew with just one parachute, but NASA wants at least two to deploy to call the mission a success. However, the capsule landed upright without any visible problems. Boeing and NASA will collect more data about the test in the coming days.

It was the first major flight test for Boeing’s Starliner capsule. The company is building it under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The American space company has companies such as Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corp. given money to build a manned capsule that can take astronauts to the International Space Station. That program has already been delayed a lot. Initially, the plan was to carry out the first crewed flights of Starliner this year, but that will not be until 2020 at the earliest. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will also make its first crewed flight only in that year. It is not yet known how the new test will affect the schedule. To do this, more information must first be collected.