Boeing successfully tested the parachute system of its Starliner spacecraft under extreme conditions, the aerospace giant announced on Monday, June 29.
Like the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, the Starliner was developed to transport astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). In contrast to the Crew Dragon, however, this has not yet happened.
This is mainly due to delays caused by a failed test flight in December 2019, when a software problem prevented an unscrewed Starliner from reaching the space station.
While working on software repair, Boeing also focuses on the safety of the spacecraft's parachute system. Last week's parachute test, which was conducted over White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico, aimed to validate the performance of the parachutes under dynamic demolition conditions.
Given that astronauts are expected to board the spacecraft, NASA and Boeing must be absolutely certain that the parachutes in Starliner's landing sequence would inflate properly if they were aborted at the start of launch, even though they had to be used on a very different flight Conditions compared to a normal landing.
"Parachutes like clean airflow," said Jim Harder, Boeing's flight director, in a report on the test on the Boeing website. “They inflate predictably in a variety of conditions, but with certain ascents, you use these parachutes in a more unstable air, where proper inflation becomes less predictable. We wanted to test the inflation characteristics at low dynamic pressures so that we could fully rely on the system we developed. "
The spacecraft's small parachutes, which are to be dropped from a high-altitude balloon to remove the Starliner's front heat shield, were successfully deployed. Ten seconds later, the spacecraft's two drogue parachutes opened as expected and inflated perfectly despite the low dynamic pressure.
In order to push the Starliner to its limits, the team prepared the test so that one of the three main parachutes could not be opened when descending. Despite the technical error, the spaceship was able to land safely a short time later.
Our # Starliner parachutes and our team recently performed a test with flying colors. They showed that astronauts are safe even under dynamic demolition conditions and a simulated failure.
Further information: https://t.co/6V8rJcx9XC pic.twitter.com/MCaZFWPypU
– Boeing Space (@BoeingSpace), June 29, 2020
Boeing said parachute test data is being analyzed to improve the system's reliability before crew flights. The first could take place next year after a test flight without a crew in autumn.
Boeing is part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, a public-private partnership that combines NASA's experience with new technologies developed by private companies to increase the availability of space. The program has already managed to bring human spacecraft launches back to US ISS via the current SpaceX mission, with upcoming crewed missions to the moon and even Mars also on the horizon.