Boeing’s goal of reaching the International Space Station via its Starliner crew capsule is one step closer to becoming a reality thanks to a parachute test conducted on Monday 29 June.
The main goal of this test was to see if the parachutes attached to the Starliner crew capsule would be able to open during a mission abort, and in less than ideal conditions.
“Parachutes like clean air flow. They inflate predictably under a wide range of conditions, but in certain ascent aborts, you are deploying these parachutes into more unsteady air where proper inflation becomes less predictable. We wanted to test the inflation characteristics at low dynamic pressure so we can be completely confident in the system we developed,” explained Boeing flight conductor Jim Harder.
The test began six seconds into the drop when small parachutes designed to lift away Starliner’s Forward Heat Shield were successfully deployed. Ten seconds later, the vehicle’s two drogue parachutes (parachutes designed for deployment from a rapidly moving object) followed suit, inflating perfectly despite the low dynamic air pressure.
However, despite both sets of parachutes opening successfully, the test was not over. The Boeing team then added a ‘fault scenario’ by preventing one of Starliner’s three main parachutes from deploying altogether.
“At 98 seconds into flight, just two pilot chutes were fired resulting in only two of the three main parachutes deploying. Despite the higher loading, Starliner’s parachutes performed effectively, bringing the test article down to Earth safely and slowly about two-and-a-half minutes later.” Boeing explained in a statement.
The information gathered from these extensive tests will be used to improve the reliability and safety of the Starliner parachute system and will be shared with NASA for use on their own space crafts.
“Our parachutes have passed every test.” Niedermaier said. “We continue to push our system because we know what’s at stake. This demanding test program ensures Starliner can bring our astronauts home safe,” said Starliner test manager Dan Niedermaier.
Take a look at the test footage below:
Image credit: Boeing