On a cold Monday morning in New Mexico, the Boeing Starliner spacecraft first took off. Under the power of its main break motors, the capsule accelerated to 650 km / h in just 5 seconds during a demonstration of its escape system.
The pad interruption test was a critical moment as Boeing seeks to fly humans to the International Space Station sometime in 2020. During Monday's 75-second test, it appears that Starliner has successfully demonstrated its ability to quickly evade problem with his Atlas V. rocket during the launch.
The test apparently went on nominally until the main parachutes were deployed – only two, not three, emerged from the capsule as it descended to the desert floor. During the network, both Jessica Landa of Boeing and NASA's Dana Hot stated that the deployment of two parachutes falls within the system's safety requirements and that this result is "within the range" of this test.
However, the issue of parachutes was accomplished by both Boeing and SpaceX during their spacecraft development to put humans in orbit for NASA's commercial teams program. Both companies had damage during their test programs and had to change the design of their chutes. Parachutes are an old technology, but they are very difficult to repair and represent a failure at one point during a space flight.
Although it is true that Starliner could return from space with only two of the three functioning parachutes, it seems reasonable that NASA will want to take some time to study this particular failure to fully understand its cause. Boeing has planned an orbital flight test for the Starliner vehicle – there will be no astronauts aboard that mission – for December 17th. If this test continues on schedule, it will send a strong signal that neither NASA nor Boeing is particularly concerned about this parachute.
Another noteworthy event during Monday's test was the large amount of orange smoke from dietetogenic tetroxide fuel emitted. from the Starliner service module when it came down to earth. Part of this was moving to the area where the capsule rested, potentially polluting the recovery site. It was not immediately clear whether this was a real problem.
Sheet image from NASA TV