Even a winter storm dubbed “Mars” on social media couldn’t keep NASA Administrator Charles Bolden from checking out a Crew Space Transportation System (CST)-100 Starliner test spacecraft on a recent visit to NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. After Bolden’s visit, the Starliner took a polar plunge in the 20-foot-deep Hydro Impact Basin.
Six landing airbags, designed and manufactured by ILC Dover in Frederica, Del., were inflated before the full-size Starliner test article was hoisted up by a crane and then dropped from a height and angle that mimicked what the spacecraft might encounter as it pushes off an Atlas V rocket during an off-nominal launch or ascent.
“The landing airbags performed as expected during this first qualification test, attenuating the extreme landing load conditions,” said Preston Ferguson, landing and recovery test lead.
The goal for the landing and recovery team is to achieve flight qualification status of the Starliner’s airbag and up-righting systems through a series of tests at Langley. While the Starliner is designed for a land-based return, it is important for engineers to understand how the spacecraft, and the onboard systems, would perform in all landing scenarios.
The Starliner is designed to transport crews to and from low-Earth orbit destinations, like the International Space Station. While it is not destined to land on the surface of Mars, Boeing’s spacecraft plays a critical role in NASA’s journey to the Red Planet. By carrying four astronauts plus science experiments, the Starliner will boost the amount of research that can be conducted aboard the orbiting laboratory – research that helps us understand what it will take to make a long-duration trek to deep space.