Boeing’s Starliner Capsule a Step Closer to Manned Space Flight
"Big milestones like the test today are just showing that we're getting a lot closer" - NASA Astronaut Nicole Mann
NASA’s hopes of once again sending American astronauts into space from American-soil came another step closer Monday (Nov. 4) with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner’s crewed capsule test.
Only a day after Space X tested the emergency parachutes for its Crew Dragon Capsule, Boeing successfully performed a “pad abort test” at the White Sands Missile Range in the New Mexico desert.
A pad abort would kick in if an engineer noticed an anomaly with a rocket that would endanger a launch. The capsule would need to be able to quickly break-off and make some distance between itself and its rocket in order to save the astronauts inside.
Photo NASA TV
“We hope we never need to use this system,” astronaut Mike Fincke said, who was present at the launch and who is one of three people who will fly the Starliner if it passes all its tests. “We know after today’s test we’ll be able to get off safely and come back and try another day.”
“It’s starting to feel really close, it’s amazing, especially being here for the test,” NASA astronaut Nicole Mann said. “Big milestones like the test today are just showing that we’re getting a lot closer.”
While the test was overall deemed a success, it wasn’t perfect.
The Starliner capsule is equipped with several parachutes that shoot off in three pulses: two drogue parachutes, three pilot parachutes, and three main parachutes. During the test, only two of the main parachutes released.
“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,” Boeing spokesperson Todd Blecher said in a statement. “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.”
As Space X did in March, Boeing will launch an uncrewed demonstration mission to the International Space Station.
Both companies are hoping they’ll be taxying people to the ISS as soon as next year, ending the United States’ somewhat embarrassing and quite expensive reliance on Russia to get the job done.