The Boeing Starliner is still on schedule for a test flight scheduled for December after completing a pad abort test at the White Sands Missile Range on November 4, 2019. The capsule managed to pass the critical safety mission, making use of its emergency thrusters to fly and its three sets of parachutes to land back on the ground safely. According to NASA and Boeing officials, the preliminary results of studies after the mission indicate a positive outlook. The Starliner is set to travel to the International Space Station (ISS) on an uncrewed test mission in preparation for astronaut transport to the ISS next year.
Kathy Lueders, the manager of the Commercial Crew Program (CCP), said during a teleconference on November 7 that the test was designed to test the spacecraft’s responses in case of an anomaly during launch. The Starliner experienced a hitch during the test: one of the main parachutes failed to launch though the other two managed to make the landing safe and pass the safety test. Boeing’s program manager and commercial crew vice, John Mulholland, said that the company has already diagnosed the problem, saying that there was a break in the connection between the main and the pilot chute, the latter of which pulls out the main parachutes.
He explained that the pin that connects the pilot and the main chute was not adequately secured; hence, the main parachute did not deploy and that the issue was not detected because a protective covering covers the entire chute system. The company is working on making sure the anomaly doesn’t happen again, saying that the parachutes will be tested before flight. However, Mulholland said that the test, lasting 95 seconds, proves that the parachutes work far beyond expectations. There was also a red cloud of nitrogen tetroxide oxidizer which was seen escaping while the engines shut down, which he said was a regular occurrence.
The Starliner is funded by a $4.2 billion CCP contract awarded in September 2014 and is expected to shuttle astronauts back to space, cementing the American presence in the final frontier while alleviating dependence on the Russian Soyuz which has been flying astronauts to and from the ISS. Meanwhile, Lueders commented, NASA and Boeing are preparing for the unmanned Orbital Flight Test (OFT) scheduled to launch on December 17 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where the craft will dock at the ISS for a week then travel back to earth.