The Boeing Corp. has conducted a successful test of its abort system for the CST-100 Starliner, the aerospace contractor’s newest astronaut capsule, at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
The test gets NASA one step closer to bringing back human spaceflight for the first time since the agency ended its space shuttle program in 2011.
Since that time, the U.S. has been forced to rely on buying seats on Russia’s Soyuz capsules in order to reach the International Space Station.
Thanks to the latest successful test on Monday, Starliner is now set for an unmanned test flight to the ISS on Dec. 17.
During the test at White Sands, two of three main parachutes opened and managed to slow down the capsule, as airbags softened the landing further.
“It’s too early to determine why all three main parachutes did not deploy. However, having two of three deploy successfully is acceptable for the test parameters and crew safety,” Boeing said in a statement.
The capsule accelerated to about 650 mph in five seconds during the abort test. That provided verification that the capsule’s engines and thrusters are capable of firing in case there is an emergency while astronauts are either sitting on the launch pad or taking off.
The test was designed to carry the Starliner a mile in the air and a mile north of the test site.
The test took place at 9:15 a.m. EST after a slight delay. Boeing then worked on recovering the capsule and analyzed data from the test.
Starliner is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Boeing is competing with SpaceX in a public-private partnership arrangement to fly astronauts to the ISS.