CST-100 capsule landing system tested in 11,000 foot drop test


April 4, 2012

The CST-100 parachute drop test carried out in Nevada (Photo: Boeing)

The CST-100 parachute drop test carried out in Nevada (Photo: Boeing)

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Boeing and Bigelow Aerospace conducted a series of tests in September 2011 that saw the Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 mock capsule dropped from a specially designed horizontal rig to test the capsule’s airbags. These airbags are designed to cushion the capsule’s impact on landing and work in conjunction with three main parachutes that are deployed before the airbags are inflated. These parachutes were included in the latest test in which the capsule was dropped from an altitude of around 11,000 ft (3,353 m) to test these parachutes.

In the first drop test of the fully combined vehicle landing system the CST-100 test capsule was released from an Erickson Sky Crane helicopter in the skies above the Delmar Dry Lake Bed near Alamo, Nevada. The roughly 11,000 ft drop was a little short of the 12,000 ft (3,658 m) altitude that the three main parachutes are designed to be deployed at, but the parachutes successfully slowed the capsule’s descent before six air bags were inflated resulting in a smooth ground landing.

"This successful test is a tremendous milestone that brings Boeing one step closer to completing development of a system that will provide safe, reliable and affordable crewed access to space," said John Mulholland, vice president and program manager, Boeing Commercial Programs.

Following parachute inspection and re-packing, a second test drop planned for later this month to demonstrate the full parachute system performance will include a drogue parachute deployment sequence on top of the main parachute deployment. An additional series of landing air bag tests are scheduled for May, while an orbital maneuvering/attitude control engine hot fire test is slated for June.

Initial test flights of the CST-100, which is intended to transport crew to the International Space Station (ISS) and private space stations such as the proposed Bigelow Next-Generation Commercial Space Station, are scheduled for 2015-16 using the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V launch vehicle.

Source: Boeing

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

Granted the shuttle was a poorly designed piece of junk but this using parachutes is a step backwards.


@ Slowburn, I agree that after the space shuttle and buran, reusable winged spaceplanes which can self-launch and recover SHOULD be possible, but apparently 1960's style capsules are still preferred, and so parachutes are a necessity!


In the Seth Effriken mines, when the cables broke, and the workers in the cage all plunged to the bottom of the lift shaft and got killed, some people figured that by putting a 3 or 4 high stack of empty 44 gallon / 200 liter fuel drums at the bottom of the lift shaft, the drums in compressing and bursting, acted as a rapid decellerator, a BIG crumple zone, instead of the cage and it's contents coming to an abrupt "dead" stop..

I am surprised that no one has thought about using the old empty fuel tanks in a similar fashion.

Both as a part of the landing gear, and as a back up in case of partial parachute failure.

Mr Stiffy

re; PeetEngineer

I did not say that the parachutes weren't necessity, just that it was a step in the wrong direction.


Mr Stiffy...just where are you going to put 12 to 20 forty-four gallon drums on the bottom of a spacecraft?

Slowburn.....I don't hear better ideas. Parachutes are light and they work.


re; VoiceofReason

The shuttle was extremely poorly designed. Imagine how much an airline ticket would cost if they had to rebuild the plane between each flight. Not only that, it rotated onto its back so that the lift generated by the wings during launch pulled the shuttle down. The people who designed it must have thought it was the wrong approach and wanted to prove it. Wings let you land where you want to not where the wind wants you to. If you are not burning Liquid Hydrogen you can use them to store fuel. Larger wings would add drag during reentry which will reduce heating.


NASA should have been working on a better shuttle all along, or at least allowed the engineers to build it the way they originally wonted to.

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