Boeing’s CST-100 undergoes ground landing tests
Boeing and NASA engineers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, have begun a series of six ground landing qualification tests to simulate what Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft and crew may experience during a landing in the American Southwest after returning from the International Space Station.
These tests consist of a CST-100 mockup being dropped from approximately 30 feet (roughly 9 meters) into the air over a pad filled with dirt. Six attached airbags absorb much of the landing impact and help to stabilize the spacecraft.
According to Boeing test engineer Preston Ferguson, the team at Langley is simulating the highest possible landing velocities and angles the spacecraft could experience during its landing.
“We have to verify the capability of landing at enveloping capsule and soil conditions to make sure that the vehicle will be stable and that the crew will be safe under expected parachute landing conditions,” Ferguson stated in a NASA article.
Before beginning the landing test series, the team completed the last of 14 abort water landing scenarios at Langley’s 20-foot-deep Hydro Impact Basin. Each scenario simulated a potential emergency during launch or return from the station. It also helped engineers understand and test the airbag and up-righting systems that protect astronauts.
After the ground and water landing tests, Langley and Boeing will install two anthropomorphic test dummies inside the capsule. The second series of ground tests with a simulated test crew will help NASA and Boeing understand how ground landings could impact the crew by directly measuring the accelerations from instruments on and inside the dummies.
The test dummies represent a 105-pound (48 kg) female and a 220-pound (100 kg) male and are currently being used for water impact tests of NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which are also conducted at Langley’s Hydro Impact Basin.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program contracted Boeing and SpaceX to build the Starliner and Crew Dragon, respectively, as part of the effort to return America’s ability to launch crews to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station. Boeing’s latest Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) award was in September 2014, for $4.2 billion. As Space News reported earlier this year, the CST-100’s first crewed flight is currently slated to take place in 2018.
Starliner will initially be sent aloft atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 422 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 located in Florida.
Eric Shear is a recent graduate from York University, honors bachelor in space science. Before that, Shear studied mechanical engineering at Tacoma Community College. During this time, Shear helped develop the HYDROS water-electrolysis propulsion system at Tethers Unlimited and led a microgravity experiment on the Weightless Wonder parabolic aircraft. Shear has worked for an extended period of time to both enable and promote space flight awareness. Shear agreed to contribute to SpaceFlight Insider’s efforts so that he could provide extra insight into interplanetary missions, both past and present.