Boeing's Starliner crew spacecraft launch pad abort test is a success

Katie Ramirez
November 5, 2019

Boeing's crew capsule is back on land after a brief flight to test its launch abort system. These systems are created to protect astronauts in the event that an emergency happens before liftoff once launch day arrives.

During today's test at the Army's White Sands Missile Range, Boeing counted down to zero, then the Starliner's four launch abort engines fired.

Two of three main parachutes opened and slowed the capsule, with airbags easing the landing on the desert surface.

Like Boeing, SpaceX is aiming to fly its first crew to the International Space Station early next year.

The test advances NASA's efforts to bring back human spaceflight for the first time since the space shuttle program ended in 2011.

NASA has picked Boeing and Elon Musk's SpaceX as the main contractors to build rocket-and-capsule launch systems to return Americans to the orbiting research lab for the first time since the USA space shuttle program ended in 2011.

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After working through a series of challenges, SpaceX reported over the weekend that the Crew Dragon's upgraded parachute has been successfully tested in single-chute mode 13 times in a row - getting the company closer to fulfilling a key requirement for the first crewed test flight.

"We hope we never need to use this system", said NASA astronaut Mike Fincke. Only two of the three big red, white and blue parachutes deployed, but both NASA and Boeing said that was acceptable for test purposes.

During that test, set for December 17, from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the uncrewed spacecraft will launch on top of an Atlas V rocket. SpaceX's crew capsule splashes down in the Atlantic, like NASA's old Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules.

"Tests like this one are crucial to help us make sure the systems are as safe as possible", Kathy Lueders, NASA's Commercial Crew Program manager, said in a news release.

This is the same procedure that would be triggered during a real, crewed launch if there were any risk to astronauts on board prior to launch.

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