Boeing completes Starliner pad abort test


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Embedded below the fold is the video of today’s Starliner pad abort test, cued up to just before launch. While the capsule landed safely, it appears that one of it’s parachutes deploy improperly. If so, this probably means Boeing will not be able to launch the unmanned demo flight to ISS on December 17.

No one during the podcast mentioned this fact, so it could mean that they considered the landing a success regardless. It is even possible that they planned it with only two chutes. Or it could be the corporate culture at Boeing, similar to the culture in the Soviet Union, to avoid mentioning non-obvious problems to the public in order to make believe all is well. We will have to wait and see.

UPDATE: More information here on the failure of one chute:

Video of the test appeared to show all three chutes deploy, but only two remained attached to Starliner – a significant issue that will have to be investigated and evaluated.

Hat tip to reader Col. Beausabre for the link to the video.

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16 comments

  • mkent

    No one during the podcast mentioned this fact, so it could mean that they considered the landing a success regardless.

    I didn’t watch the podcast you linked to, but I did watch the test live on NASA TV, where it was mentioned. It was also mentioned that it was an acceptable test, because if it had happened during an actual abort, the crew would have landed safely.

    Or it could be the corporate culture at Boeing, similar to the culture in the Soviet Union, to avoid mentioning non-obvious problems to the public in order to make believe all is well.

    Oh, good grief! They mentioned it directly in their primary press release:

    Two of three Starliner’s main parachutes deployed just under half a minute into the test, and the service module separated from the crew module a few seconds later. Although designed with three parachutes, two opening successfully is acceptable for the test perimeters and crew safety.

    What Boeing experienced is properly called an anomaly — an off-nominal condition that did not cause a catastrophic failure. It will be investigated, the root cause determined, and fixed before crew flies on CFT. They are currently saying OFT won’t be affected. Perhaps that will change. Perhaps not. OFT could have flown before the pad abort, and it was recently scheduled that way.

  • Col Beausabre

    Link to a good article and a short (circa four minutes) video of the test

    https://www.geekwire.com/2019/nasa-thrilled-pad-abort-test-boeings-starliner-space-taxi-despite-parachute-glitch/

    ““Tests like this one are crucial to help us make sure the systems are as safe as possible,” Kathy Lueders, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager, said in a news release. “We are thrilled with the preliminary results, and now we have the job of really digging into the data and analyzing whether everything worked as we expected.”

    “High-performance parachutes are among the trickiest safety elements for Boeing’s Starliner as well as for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, the other commercial space taxi that’s being developed for station-bound astronauts.” –

    Interesting, but why so challenging ? The USAF/US Army have been doing heavy drops since the early Fifties,
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKsvfX5H83k
    Mercury, Gemini and Apollo all used parachutes, NASA did a whole series of tests with the Rogallo Wing for spacecraft recovery…..https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rogallo_wing

    “Boeing said it would review the parachute deployment sequence but didn’t expect any impact on the Dec. 17 launch date.”

    Hmmmmm…..

  • Richard M

    I hate to say it, but we say it for a reason: This is why you test.

    Kathy Lueders has already said that the pad abort test is not on the critical path for the OFT flight, so it shouldn’t affect its schedule, I assume. That said, Boeing and NASA clearly want to determine why that thid chute failed as quickly as possible. They certainly won’t be doing the crew flight until they’re sure they have determined the cause, and sure that they have fixed it.

  • Is there no tracking software to keep the object in-frame? Or maybe a good camera operator.

    Agree with Col. Beausabre that the parachutes should not be particularly challenging. The Apollo CM had an all-up weight slightly greater than Starliner, and those parachutes worked well enough.

  • Edward

    From the article in the update: “Video of the test appeared to show all three chutes deploy, but only two remained attached to Starliner – a significant issue that will have to be investigated and evaluated.

    It looked to me as though the three pilot chutes deployed but that one of them failed to remain attached long enough to pull its main chute from its container.

  • wayne

    Blair–
    in my opinion, the worst non-technical thing is…. bad video, fed to the public.
    [SpaceX & Rocket Lab, have quite nice video capabilities. I hope their engineering-cameras tracked better.

  • pzatchok

    650 MPH?

    I was under the impression it would have to drag the capsule off of the exploding rocket at speeds far greater then that. A mid launch explosion could have the craft going at over 1500 mph. Does this thing have the boost to pull away from something like that?

    i guess a flight abort test could be done.

    What if the service module gets stuck?

    I was a little surprised at the camera work considering the years of experience they have.

  • Col Beausabre

    Wayne, I won’t excuse the camerawork here, but for many years, the camera rigs at While Sands

    http://flowjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/m45_camera.png

    Were modified Army M45 Quad 50 Caliber AA Mounts

    https://i.pinimg.com/736x/85/f0/46/85f04630adf1630957ef347e5613b138–korean-war-machine-guns.jpg

    It saved money and worked well. Wonder how much was spent on their replacements…..

  • wayne

    Col Beausabre-
    Good stuff.

    tangentially—
    Onboard Orion capsule Re-entry into Earth’s Atmosphere
    December 5, 2014 test footage
    https://youtu.be/j1vmVJKqUFE
    10:42

  • wayne

    way off-topic, but an interesting video

    Ascent: Commemorating Space Shuttle
    “Riding the Booster”
    2012. excerpt, with enhanced sound
    https://youtu.be/2aCOyOvOw5c
    8:31

    …”a movie from the point of view of the Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster with sound mixing and enhancement done by the folks at Skywalker Sound. The sound is all from the camera microphones and not fake or replaced with Foley artist sound.”

  • Edward

    pzatchok asked: “I was under the impression it would have to drag the capsule off of the exploding rocket at speeds far greater then that. A mid launch explosion could have the craft going at over 1500 mph. Does this thing have the boost to pull away from something like that?

    Absolute velocity matters less than the acceleration. As long as the escape rockets accelerate the capsule enough to take it free of a problematic booster, then the rockets are satisfactory. The rockets also have to carry the capsule far enough way to clear it and the parachutes of any debris falling from the booster.

    This particular test assumes that there was a problem while the rocket is still on the pad and not yet rising. The equivalent in an aircraft is called a zero-zero ejection test: zero speed and zero altitude. In 1983, the Soviets actually had to use their launch escape system at zero-zero, just prior to launch.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soyuz_7K-ST_No._16L

  • Col Beausabre

    Stumbled across a video relevant to this discussion – a history of NASA’s ground and vehicle mounted cameras.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlPfHV36G-g&t=2s

    Note, “Little Bright Eyes”, which was the M45 based system I mentioned above

    Also from Curious Droid – “What Happened to Launch Complex 39A and 39B”, a look at some impressive engineering in its own right

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kv1ydBgkthY

  • pzatchok

    The White Sands modified Camera tracking mounts were sold off several years ago. Sadly minus the Optics and tracking hardware.

    They would have made great binocular telescope mounts. The M-45’s even had the seats and motors still in place to guide them by hand.

    https://www.ebay.com/itm/Contraves-EOTS-Cinetheodolite-Telescope-Missile-Tracker-/232613145518
    https://www.facebook.com/notes/us-army-white-sands-missile-range/t-4-finds-new-home-at-wsmr-after-71-years-on-mule-peak/2285095488210569/

  • Col Beausabre

    Actually, I think the Contraves’ mounts were purpose built rather than converted, although they clearly trace their lineage back to the M45’s. In 1992 Kineto mounts with electro-optical cameras replaced the Contraves’ film based units. My understanding is that they remain in use today

  • wayne

    Col Beausabre–
    Good stuff!
    pzatchok-
    Interesting!

    pivoting to nuclear bomb photography…..

    “Hollywood’s Top Secret Film Studio”
    https://youtu.be/OWTNxaEYNUM
    51:45

    “From 1947 until the studio was closed in 1969, Lookout Mountain Laboratory produced more than 6,500 films, many of which remain classified to this day.”

  • wayne

    shovel ready jobs….

    “The Big Challenge”
    Building NASA’s Kennedy Space Center: VAB, Launch Pad & Control Center
    1966
    https://youtu.be/rOmBg52a5Q0
    27:35

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