The Boeing Starliner, one of the two private space vehicles that looks to cart astronauts to the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral, moved forward with a pad abort test Monday, landing safely but losing one parachute along the way.

Commentators pointed out during a live stream of the test at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico that despite losing one of three parachutes, it fell within the parameters for what the company determined to be a successful test. Commentators said even one parachute would have been acceptable.


The flight marks the first time the Starliner has had any sort of launch. The capsule blasted off from the facility’s Launch Complex 32 at 9:15 EST (7:15 local time) with four launch abort engines with 190,000 pounds of thrust firing the capsule about 1 mile into the sky.

It then jettisoned its lower service module, which continued a free fall to the ground, while also deploying its forward heat shield and three parachutes, but losing one on its descent. The heat shield was then jettisoned while a bottom airbag system was deployed before it landed back on the New Mexico sands. In a real emergency, the capsule would land in the Atlantic Ocean as launches would take place from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The entire test took 95 seconds.

While SpaceX already sent its Crew Dragon on the Demo-1 test flight earlier this year to the International Space Station, Boeing is targeting Dec. 17 for the Starliner’s Orbital Flight Test to the ISS, its first uncrewed test flight. On Monday, United Launch Alliance began stacking the Atlas V rocket for that flight.

“We hope we never need to use this system,” said Mike Fincke, one of three astronauts slated to eventually fly on Boeing’s first crewed flight of Starliner to the ISS. “But in case we ever have any trouble aboard the beautiful Atlas 5 on the launch pad we know after today’s test that we’ll be able to get it off safely and come back and try again on a different day. This shows that Boeing is committed to safety, and we are really looking forward to flying a safe spacecraft.”

The test at the White Sands used a flight test vehicle that was assembled last year at Kennedy Space Center. Two other Starliners including the one slated for December’s test flight, are still at Boeing’s Florida facilities.

Boeing officials said the company will now gather data in the next 24 hours from the test capsule and provide results to NASA as it continues to prepare for its first test flight into space from Florida.

“We’ve tested all these systems individually, so we know the propulsion system fires at the intended levels, and we know the parachutes can support the vehicle and safely slow it down, but the real test is making sure those systems can perform together. That’s when you know these systems are ready to fly people,” said Boeing’s Pad Abort Test Flight Director Alicia Evans.

Both Boeing and SpaceX are seeking NASA certification to begin regular launches of astronauts to the space station. When they launch with crews, it will be the first time NASA has sent astronauts into space from U.S. soil since the space shuttle program ended in 2011.

Since then NASA has relied on Russia to ferry its astronauts to the ISS at considerable cost. As part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Boeing landed a contract for $4.2 billion and SpaceX $2.6 billion to develop the capsules and take over the launches.

Those contracts include six crewed launches each to the ISS.

The pad abort system is something being used by not only SpaceX and Boeing, but in Blue Origin’s New Shepard rockets as well as the Orion capsule being used in NASA’s Space Launch System.