Boeing has successfully completed a major milestone after completing its final parachute balloon-drop test.
In partnership with NASA, the test was completed as a testament to the Starliner’s preparedness for manned launch and return.
The spacecraft uses a series of parachutes and airbags that deploy at specific altitudes allowing Starliner to touch down gently.
According to NASA, during the test the Starliner used two small parachutes to carry off the spacecraft’s forward heat shield and expose critical hardware needed for the rest of the landing system sequence. Starliner then deploys two drogue parachutes to slow and stabilize the capsule before three small pilot parachutes pulled out the spacecraft’s three mains. The three main parachutes continue slowing Starliner’s descent for a safe and soft touchdown supported by the vehicle’s landing airbags.
“Our philosophy has always been testing the system hardware together to see how all the elements interact,” said Starliner landing system lead at Boeing Mike McCarley in a statement. “Our vehicle can’t fit in an airplane, so the only way we can lift a test article high enough to simulate an entire landing system sequence is with very a large balloon.”
Boeing and NASA will continue collecting data on Starliner’s parachutes through the spacecraft’s second Orbital Flight Test ahead of crewed flights beginning in 2021.
“This last balloon drop is bittersweet for many of us,” said Dan Niedermaier, Starliner’s flight test manager. “It marks the end of a valuable test series that took hundreds of people working very hard to execute. We couldn’t be more pleased with the results and grateful to our NASA customer for partnering with us on this campaign.”