Boeing Traces Parachute Anomaly to Misplaced Pin, Releases Test Video

Boeing Traces Parachute Anomaly to Misplaced Pin, Releases Test Video

Boeing said today that the anomaly that occurred with one of the three main CST-100 Starliner parachutes during Monday’s Pad Abort Test (PAT) was due to a misplaced pin in the parachute system. Stressing that the parachute itself did not fail, only its deployment, Boeing’s John Mulholland declared the test a success, noting that the other two parachutes were more than sufficient to safely land the spacecraft.

Boeing is developing CST-100 Starliner through NASA’s commercial crew public-private partnership.  Monday’s test demonstrated that its abort system could detach the spacecraft from its launch vehicle if anything went awry during  launch and safely return the crew to Earth.

The test took place at White Sands Missile Range, NM and it landed on the desert, as CST-100 Starliner will do when it returns from orbit.  It is the first time a U.S. spacecraft of this type will land on land instead of splashing down in the ocean.  However, in the case of a launch abort at Cape Canaveral, FL, the capsule will, in fact, make a water landing off the Florida coast.  By conducting this test at White Sands, Boeing could also use it to test the airbags that will soften the landing in actual flight.  Mulholand said the performance of the airbags was “fantastic.”

Boeing released a video of the 95 second test.

The video shows that only two of the three main parachutes deployed.  During a media teleconference today, Mulholland, Vice President and Program Manager for Boeing’s commercial crew program, said a linkage between the pilot parachute and main parachute was not connected because a pin was not through a loop in the pilot parachute’s riser.  It could not be inspected visually just before launch because it was enclosed in a protective sheath.  It was discovered after the spacecraft was recovered and a review of close-out photos.

Mulholland and his NASA counterpart, Kathy Lueders, commercial crew program manager, pointed out that finding problems like this is the reason tests like this are conducted and contribute to understanding the system as a whole. In this case, they learned how well the other two parachutes could compensate.

They will review procedures and develop a joint action plan to ensure the pins can be inspected in the future by other methods.  Lueders said “you always learn. … For those that worked the shuttle program, we were learning the vehicle all the way to the end.”

Boeing is getting ready to launch an uncrewed flight test of the CST-100 Starliner to the International Space Station (ISS) on December 17.  Called the Orbital Flight Test, they do not anticipate any delays due to this anomaly. A Crewed Flight Test (CFT) will take place next year, although the date has not been set.

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