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Starliner’s first crewed test flight a step closer after crucial upgrade

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. Boeing / Boeing

Boeing Space is another step closer to performing its long-awaited first crewed test flight of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.

The upcoming test flight to the International Space Station (ISS) — currently set for no earlier than April — was given a boost on Thursday after Boeing Space confirmed the integrity of the upgraded design of the Starliner’s main parachute, which deploys during the capsule’s descent at the end of a mission.

“Data analysis shows the two-parachute test … was a success, and all test objectives were met, clearing the way for the Crew Flight Test,” Boeing Space said in a post on social media, adding that the enhanced parachute design “improves the system’s soft links, reinforces its main parachute suspension, and strengthens its radial line,” compared to the previous iteration.

Boeing Space also revealed that the new parachute system has now been installed on the Starliner in preparation for the test flight.

Another online post (below) included footage of the parachute test that took place last month:

Our team recently joined @Commercial_Crew to evaluate #Starliner's upgraded parachute design.

Data analysis shows the two-parachute test over @ypg_az was a success and all test objectives were met, clearing the way for the Crew Flight Test. pic.twitter.com/D7fxAGD179

— Boeing Space (@BoeingSpace) February 15, 2024

The first crewed Starliner mission will see NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams travel aboard the Boeing Space capsule to the ISS for a stay of up to two weeks. The pair will spend their time working alongside other ISS crewmembers before heading home in the Starliner for a parachute-assisted landing in the Southwest of the U.S.

A successful mission will ease NASA’s reliance on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, which has been flying astronauts to and from the space station since 2020. SpaceX’s eighth operational crewed flight is set to take place at the beginning of March.

The Starliner has faced many challenges during its development. A slew of issues with the spacecraft emerged in 2019 following its first uncrewed test flight, which failed to reach the ISS. These were fixed ahead of another test flight in 2022 that succeeded in docking with the ISS for several days before returning home.

However, ongoing issues with elements of the spacecraft’s design have since forced several delays to the launch of the Starliner’s first crewed flight. Barring any last-minute issues, the mission is now on track to take place in April or soon after.

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