NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is chugging along, working towards bringing crewed launches back to Florida’s Space Coast. Today’s pad abort test of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft brings us one step closer to that achievement.
After a short delay of 15 minutes, Starliner shot off into the skies over White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. This was a demonstration of the system that, in the unlikely event the ever-reliable Atlas V has a bad day, will quickly get the crew up and away from danger.
After initiation, Starliner begins to pitch downrange almost immediately, and reaches 650mph in 5 seconds. I mean, it better be fast, because you’re going to want to get away from whatever is happening below you on the pad.
Once apogee, or highest point in flight, is reached, the capsule rotates to a bottom-first orientation, in order to deploy the drogue parachutes behind it, and jettison the service module in front.
Once the main chutes are deployed, the heat shield pops off, revealing the airbags, which immediately begin to inflate and provide a soft landing for the astronauts on board.
In this test, it’s worth noting that only 2 of the 3 main chutes actually deployed. Boeing tweeted that “this is acceptable for test parameters and crew safety.”
It’s too soon to know if this will delay any future milestones for Starliner, but it will probably mean there will be more parachute tests leading up to actual flight.
Keep following the happenings with Commercial Crew, and get pumped about crew launches returning to the US!