Boeing's Starliner, one of two commercial spacecraft created to shuttle astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS), completed a critical safety milestone in an end-to-end test of its abort system. These systems are created to protect astronauts in the event that an emergency happens before liftoff once launch day arrives.
The test went off at 6:15 a.m. PT and saw the Starliner capsule fire its four abort engines and launch the craft to a speed of about 650 miles per hour (1,046 km/h) in around 5 seconds. Only two of the three main parachutes opened, but both NASA and Boeing said astronauts would have been safe if aboard.
Boeing plans to launch the Starliner to the International Space Station next month, without a crew. "Our teams across the program have made remarkable progress to get us to this point, and we are fully focused on the next challenge - Starliner's uncrewed flight to demonstrate Boeing's capability to safely fly crew to and from the space station".
Starliner's four Launch Abort Engines and several Orbital Maneuvering and Attitude Control thrusters will fire and push the spacecraft approximately 1 mile (4,500 feet/1.6 km) above land and 1 mile (7,000 feet/1.6 km) north of the test stand at Launch Complex 32 on White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
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At this time we don't expect any impact to our scheduled December 17 Orbital Flight Test. Since the, the United States has relied on purchasing seats on Russian Soyuz capsules to reach the International Space Station.
SpaceX - NASA's other commercial crew partner - successfully launched a Dragon capsule to the space station in March. Only two of the three big red, white and blue parachutes deployed, but both NASA and Boeing said that was acceptable for test purposes.
"We are thrilled with the preliminary results, and now we have the job of really digging into the data and analysing whether everything worked as we expected", NASA's commercial crew manager, Kathy Lueders, said in a statement. The vessel is being constructed under NASA's Commercial Crew program; this test is created to make sure that Startliner's systems will function properly both together and separately.