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.