The airbags, which are filled with a mixture of compressed nitrogen and oxygen and are located under the capsule’s heat shield, enable ground landings. The heat shield is designed to separate from the craft during descent at about 5,000 feet before airbag deployment.
The CST-100 is slightly smaller than the Orion capsule that Lockheed Martin is designing for CCDev, but it is bigger than the command module used in NASA’s Apollo missions. Boeing and Bigelow have designed the capsule to support up to seven people and to remain in orbit for up to seven months.
Boeing says the companies will also conduct wind tunnel tests and a preliminary design review of their capsule during Phase 2.
The CST-100 is compatible with a number of launch vehicles but will be tested initially on the Atlas V launch system. The Atlas V, formerly operated by Lockheed, is now operated by the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed and Boeing.
Boeing and Bigelow expect to have the CST-100 fully operational by 2015, which was meant to be the same time NASA would begin commercial flights to and from the International Space Station. However, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told Congress late last year that those flights may not begin until 2017 due to budget issues.