NASA and Boeing have completed a parachute drop test campaign to validate the spacecraft’s recovery system.
The Boeing Starliner spacecraft is the first America-made orbital crew vehicle capable of touching down on land. The vehicle utilises three main parachutes along with a series of airbags to recover the vehicle safely.
The Starliner parachute drop test campaign consisted of six drops with the vehicle being hoisted to altitude by a large balloon provided by Near Space Corporation. During each test, the vehicle was put through a series of worst-case scenarios to ensure the vehicle could handle any eventuality.
The final test in the series saw a test article of the Starliner vehicle hoisted to an altitude of over 10,500 metres by a large balloon before being dropped.
Teams on the ground forced two abnormal scenarios designed to test the vehicle’s limits. To begin with, one of a pair of small parachutes designed to pull away a forward heat shield was prevented from opening. The heat shield was nonetheless pulled away safely without impacting the rest of the vehicle.
The second scenario prevented the deployment of one of two drogue parachutes that are designed to slow and stabilise the Starliner vehicle. The vehicle again performed nominally despite being hamstrung with the vehicle’s pilot and main parachutes deploying safely to slow it down for a soft touchdown in the New Mexico desert.
In addition to testing the redundancy of Starliner’s recovery system, the test campaign made use of flight-proven parachutes in order to validate the equipment for reuse.
Following the completion of the final Starliner drop test, Boeing completed the final stage of recovery system testing before its second uncrewed orbital test flight. Despite this, Boeing will continue to improve the vehicle’s parachutes reinforcing suspension lines within each canopy. The improvements will be monitored during Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test 2 to ensure the vehicle is ready to safely return a crew to Earth from orbit.