Boeing's Starliner spacecraft completes its first pad abort test

Pablo Tucker
November 5, 2019

During today's test at the Army's White Sands Missile Range, Boeing counted down to zero, then the Starliner's four launch abort engines fired.

The abort test saw the capsule accelerate to about 650 miles per hour in five seconds, verifying that Starliner's engines and thrusters are capable of firing in the event of an emergency while astronauts are sitting on the launch pad or ascending. Since that time, the United States has relied on purchasing seats in Russian Soyuz capsules to reach the International Space Station.

Starliner is one of two new spacecraft (the other is SpaceX's (SPACE) Crew Dragon) that NASA has contracted to start flying astronauts back to the ISS from US soil as part of its Commercial Crew program. The launch for that test is set for December 17 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

'We're constantly thinking about safety to make sure our crew is in the safest vehicle we can possibly make, ' said Landa.


For Monday's test, touchdown more than a mile north of the White Sands launch site was expected a minute and a half after liftoff. After this, smaller orbital maneuvering and reaction control thrusters will fire and eventually re-orient the spacecraft into a tail-first attitude.

NASA in a press release called the test "acceptable" and echoed what Boeing said in its statement. Boeing will review the data from Monday's test before moving forward with the first Starliner/Atlas V launch from Cape Canaveral. Aerojet Rocketdyne provides propulsion and pressure vessel tanks on every phase of the Starliner mission from launch to reentry.

Two drogue parachutes were deployed at about 20 seconds, followed by the three pilot chutes and two of the three main parachutes five seconds later.

Boeing holds NASA contracts valued at $4.2 billion to build and launch the Starliner while SpaceX was awarded $2.6 billion for Crew Dragon development.


The first missions carrying humans should take place in 2020, according to NASA, but this schedule depends on the success of several upcoming tests. During the test, Starliner will gain almost 1,300 meters in altitude and fly around 1,600 meters in distance away from the launch site.

Private companies - SpaceX included - have been shipping cargo to the space station since 2012.

It was a successful test launch this morning for Boeing's new space pod.


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