by Sasha Congiu
NASA’s Langley Research Center
Whether testing a model of the Boeing CST-100 capsule in a wind tunnel or dropping it in water, researchers and engineers have one common goal: astronaut safety. That’s because safety is a top priority for systems under development in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to launch crews to the International Space Station from America.
Throughout the development of the CST-100, Boeing is testing fundamental capabilities of its abort system using unique facilities and expertise at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. The testing is being completed under a reimbursable Space Act Agreement Boeing has with the center. The CST-100 features a pusher abort system that would push the capsule off its Atlas V rocket in the case of an emergency on the pad or during ascent, ensuring the safety of the crew on board.
“Our unique facilities and expertise enable us to collect dynamic stability data that is crucial to the design of a highly dynamic vehicle like Boeing’s abort vehicle,” said Vanessa Aubuchon, Langley’s flight dynamics principle investigator. “Building on lessons learned during similar tests for Orion’s Launch Abort System and Crew Module resulted in a highly successful test that provided Boeing with the best possible characterization of the stability of their vehicle.”
Each test, though inherently different, provided the team with the data necessary to better understand how the CST-100 system would operate during an abort scenario.
Langley and Boeing first tested a two-foot model in Langley’s Transonic Dynamics Tunnel — the only facility in the nation that contains a test platform capable of replicating the environmental conditions the CST-100 would experience during flight.
“The Boeing CST-100 flies a familiar path through the atmosphere,” said Olman Carvajal, Boeing Commercial Crew wind tunnel test lead. “During an unlikely abort scenario, the vehicle is likely to experience different aerodynamic shifts, so we test the capsule model at different angles to ensure we can land the spacecraft safely in a real emergency event.”
In addition to wind tunnel testing, researchers from Langley and Boeing dropped a full-scale test article of the CST-100 into Langley’s Hydro Impact Basin, which looks like a large swimming pool. The CST-100 will be certified to land on land, and while it’s unlikely the capsule will land in the water except in an emergency scenario, water drop testing at a variety of heights and angles is important to ensure a safe landing in any situation. Boeing will use the data and results from these tests to support its certification efforts for launching NASA astronauts to the International Space Station.
Under Boeing’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract, the company will further test its abort capabilities during a series of thruster tests at White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico and during a pad abort test in early 2017.