Spaceflight Insider

Boeing’s CST-100 undergoes ground landing tests

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner during the Aug. 24, 2016 drop test at NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia. Photo Credit: NASA / Langley Research Center

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner during the Aug. 24, 2016, drop test at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. Photo Credit: NASA / Langley Research Center

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.

Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft during drop tests conducted at NASA's Langley Research Center on August 25, 2016. Photo Credit: NASA

Photo Credit: NASA / Langley Research Center

In a NASA news release, Boeing test engineer Preston Ferguson said 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 said.

Prior to this test series, engineers tested Orion at Langley’s 20-foot-deep Hydro Impact Basin. The goal was to simulate a potential emergency landing after launch or a return from the International Space Station. Additionally, these tests allowed engineers to understand systems that ensure the capsule stays upright after any landing, be it in water or on land.

With this round of water and ground landing tests complete, Boeing will now begin to install two test dummies inside Orion for a second series of simulations to measure accelerations a future crew might experience while inside the capsule.

These anthropomorphic test dummies will represent a male and female at 220 pounds (100 kilograms) and 105 pounds (48 kilograms) respectively.

Boeing, along with SpaceX, were contracted to build the Starliner and Crew Dragon respectively. The goal is to return domestic crew launch capability to the United States. 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.

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