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Boeing: Astronaut capsule abort test ‘successful’ despite parachute flop

Two parachutes acceptable for test parameters, crew safety, Boeing says

Boeing says it had a successful pad abort test Monday of its astronaut capsule in New Mexico despite one of three parachutes not deploying.

The company conducted the test at White Sands Missile Range as part of the process to certify Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to carry astronauts as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program.

An uncrewed Starliner capsule fired all four launch abort engines lifting off from the test stand just after 9:15 a.m., demonstrating the ability to shuttle astronauts away to safety in event of a launch failure.

“Tests like this one are crucial to help us make sure the systems are as safe as possible,” NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager Kathy Lueders said. “We are thrilled with the preliminary results, and now we have the job of really digging into the data and analyzing whether everything worked as we expected.”

The spacecraft flew nearly a mile in just under 20 seconds before deploying its forward heat shield and parachutes. The crew capsule slowly descended into the desert under two parachutes. A third parachute should have also deployed. Boeing officials said in a statement engineers are working to determine why it did not.

"We did have a deployment anomaly, not a parachute failure. It’s too early to determine why all three main parachutes did not deploy, however, having two of three deploy successfully is acceptable for the test parameters and crew safety," a Boeing spokesman said in an email. "At this time we don’t expect any impact to our scheduled Dec. 17 Orbital Flight Test. Going forward we will do everything needed to ensure safe orbital flights with crew.”

The Starliner landed on airbags, touching down about two minutes after liftoff.

Boeing’s pad abort test flight director, Alicia Evans, said the test showed that all of the systems Boeing tested independently can work together to fly astronauts.

“We’ve tested all these systems individually, so we know the propulsion system fires at the intended levels, and we know the parachutes can support the vehicle and safely slow it down, but the real test is making sure those systems can perform together," Evans said. "That’s when you know these systems are ready to fly people."

NASA is paying Boeing and SpaceX to develop spacecraft to carry American astronauts to and from the International Space Station. When both companies begin launching crew from Florida's Space Coast it will be the first time since 2011 U.S. astronauts will launch from American soil.

The two-minute test sets Boeing up for its first test flight next month, officials said. Boeing will review the data from Monday's test before moving forward with the first Starliner/Atlas V launch from Cape Canaveral.

“Today’s pad abort test was a milestone achievement for our CST-100 Starliner team, for NASA, and for American human spaceflight," Boeing officials said. "We will review the data to determine how all of the systems performed, including the parachute deployment sequence."

Boeing is targeting Dec. 17 to launch Starliner on its first test flight without crew from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a United Launch Alliance Rocket.

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About the Author:

Emilee Speck

Emilee is a digital journalist for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com, where she writes about space and Central Florida news. Previously, Emilee was a space writer and web editor for the Orlando Sentinel and a producer at the Naples Daily News. Emilee is a Space Coast native and graduate of the University of North Florida journalism program.

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