Home SCIENCE See How Car Airbags Inspired This New Spacecraft Landing System

See How Car Airbags Inspired This New Spacecraft Landing System

Reusing spacecraft means landing them on the ground — and using airbags to protect the crew on impact.Airbag-based methods for crew impact attenuation have been highlighted as a potentialsimple, lightweight means of enabling safe land-landings for the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, and the next generation of ballistic shaped spacecraft.

image credit: Science Channel

To investigate the feasibility of this concept during a nominal 7.62 m/s Orion landing, a full-scale personal airbag system 24% lighter than the Orion baseline has been developed, and subjected to 38 drop tests on land.

image credit: Science Channel

Through this effort, the system has demonstrated the ability to maintain the risk of injury to an occupant during a 7.85 m/s, 01 impact angle landlanding to within the NASA specified limit of 0.5%.


In accomplishing this, the personal airbag system concept has been proven to be feasible. Moreover, the obtained test results suggest that by implementing anti bottoming airbags to prevent direct contact between the system and the landing surface, the system performance during landings with 01 impact angles can be further improved, by at least a factor of two.

Additionally,a series of drop tests from the nominal Orion impact angle of 301 indicated that severe injury risk levels would be sustained beyond impact velocities of 5 m/s. This is a result of the differential stroking of the airbags within the system causing a shearing effect between the occupant seat structure and the spacecraft floor, removing significant stroke from the airbags.