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Boeing’s astronaut capsule completes first flight test

Image credit: nasa

Boeing’s in-development Starliner astronaut capsule has undergone its first flight test with the firm testing its ability to abort in the event of an emergency.

During the two-minute test designed to simulate a launch pad emergency, an uncrewed Starliner spacecraft lifted off under its own power from a test stand at the US Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The vehicle was able to demonstrate the proper performance of numerous integrated systems that would be needed to successfully propel the capsule away from its Atlas V launch vehicle at any point during the ascent.

Nearly 34 seconds into the test, the service and crew modules separated. As the crew module descended slowly to a safe landing under the parachutes, the service module continued to free fall as planned.

Only two of the three main parachutes opened, although both Nasa and Boeing said astronauts would have been safe if aboard.

The abort system is designed to provide a fast getaway for a crew if there is an emergency on the Florida pad or in flight.

“The test team and spacecraft performed flawlessly,” said Starliner Program Manager John Mulholland. “Emergency scenario testing is very complex and today our team validated that the spacecraft will keep our crew safe in the unlikely event of an abort.”

Boeing hopes the Starliner will provide the backbone to reliable transportation services to low Earth orbit destinations including the International Space Station (ISS) and jumping-off points for long-duration missions back to the Moon and on to Mars.

Next month, Boeing plans to launch a Starliner to the ISS without a crew. All three astronauts assigned to the first crew flight - targeted for next year - were present for Monday’s test.

“We hope we never need to use this system,” said Nasa astronaut Mike Fincke, “but in case we ever have any trouble aboard the beautiful Atlas V on the launch pad, we know after today’s test that we’ll be able to get off safely.”

US astronauts have thus far been hitching rides on Russian rockets, costing Nasa tens of millions of dollars per seat.

“We are thrilled with the preliminary results and now we have the job of really digging into the data and analysing whether everything worked as we expected,” Kathy Lueders, Nasa’s commercial crew manager, said in a statement.

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