Boeing successfully performed a launchpad abort test of the company’s Starliner crew capsule. Although the capsule touched down safely downrange, one of its three main parachutes failed to deploy.
The test was conducted at 14:15 UTC at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Both the Starliner Crew Module and Service Module were placed on a raised launch platform that simulated the top of an Atlas V launch vehicle. On ignition, the capsule’s four Launch Abort Engines fired for 5.1 seconds producing 18,000 kgf (40,000 lbf) and pulling the capsule away from the platform.
As the four Launch Abort Engines cut out, the 48 Orbital Maneuvering and Attitude Control thrusters fired rolling the Starliner capsule into the correct orientation. The roll ensures the capsule drifts safely away from the anomaly on the pad.
Nearing its apogee, the capsule performed a pitch around maneuver to reorient itself for the final stages of the abort. Over the next few seconds, the Starliner capsule’s drogue and then main parachutes were deployed.
During this phase, one of the capsule’s drogue parachutes sheared off early ensuring its main could not be deployed. However, due to redundancy in the system, the two remaining parachutes were sufficient for a safe touchdown.
Soon after main chute deployment, the Service Module and heatshield were jettisoned and the capsule’s airbags inflated. The airbags ensure the capsule remains afloat following an ocean splashdown when returning from space. Today, however, the airbags provided a little bounce as the capsule touched down safely on the desert floor.
Despite the failure of one of the Starliner capsule’s parachutes, NASA confirmed in a November 4 press release that the test had been completed successfully. “Although designed with three parachutes, two opening successfully is acceptable for the test perimeters and crew safety.”
With the successful completion of the pad abort test, Boeing can move forward with the main orbital test flight of Starliner. The flight is expected to be launched aboard an Atlas V on a mission to the International Space Station on December 17.