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Information about Space ShuttleNASA's Space Shuttle, officially named the Space Transportation System (STS), is the spacecraft currently used by the United States government for its human spaceflight missions and is scheduled to be retired from service in 2010 (7 years ago). At launch, it consists of a rust-colored external tank (ET), two white, slender Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs), and the orbiter.
The shuttle stack launches vertically like a conventional rocket from a mobile launch platform. It lifts off under the power of its two solid rocket boosters (SRBs) and its three main engines (SSMEs), the latter fueled by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen from the external tank. The Space Shuttle has a two stage ascent. The boosters are used only for the first stage, while the main engines burn for both stages. About two minutes after liftoff, staging occurs: the SRBs are released, and shortly begin falling into the ocean to be retrieved for reuse. The shuttle orbiter and external tank continue to ascend under power from the three main engines and their inertia. Upon reaching orbit, the main engines are shut down, and the external tank, the only non-reusable major component, is jettisoned downward and falls to burn up in the atmosphere. At this point, the orbital maneuvering system (OMS) engines may be used to adjust or circularize the achieved orbit.
The orbiter carries astronauts and payload such as satellites or space station parts into low earth orbit, into the Earth's upper atmosphere or thermosphere. Usually, five to seven crew members ride in the orbiter. Two crew members, the Commander and Pilot, are sufficient for a minimal flight, as in the first four "test" flights, STS-1 through STS-4. The payload capacity is 22,700 kilograms (50,000 lb). To carry its payload, the orbiter has a large cargo bay with doors that open along the entire length of its top, a feature which makes the Space Shuttle unique among present spacecraft. This feature made possible the deployment of large satellites such as the Hubble Space Telescope.
When the orbiter's mission is complete it fires its Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) thrusters to drop out of orbit and re-enters the lower atmosphere. During the descent, the shuttle orbiter passes through different layers of the atmosphere and decelerates from hypersonic speed primarily by aerobraking. In the lower atmosphere and landing phase, it acts as an unpowered glider with only the hydraulically actuated flight surfaces controlling its descent. It then makes a landing on a long runway as a spaceplane. Being unpowered and having an aerodynamic shape that is a compromise between subsonic atmospheric flight and hypersonic flight, the orbiter has a high sink rate and approaches the runway on a glideslope much steeper than that of a commercial jetliner. Also, as the landing is unpowered, only one landing attempt is possible; if the runway is missed, an off-runway landing is inevitable.
DescriptionThe Space Shuttle is the first orbital spacecraft designed for reusability. It carries payloads to low Earth orbit, provides crew rotation for the International Space Station (15 walls) (ISS), and performs servicing missions. The orbiter can also recover satellites and other payloads from orbit and return them to Earth. Each Shuttle was designed for a projected lifespan of 100 launches or 10 years' operational life, although this was later extended. The man in charge of designing the STS was Maxime Faget, who had also overseen the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft designs. The crucial factor in the size and shape of the Shuttle Orbiter was the requirement that it be able to accommodate the largest planned commercial and classified satellites, and have the cross-range recovery range to meet the requirement for classified USAF missions for a once-around abort from a launch to a polar orbit. Factors involved in opting for solid rockets and an expendable fuel tank included the desire of the Pentagon to obtain a high-capacity payload vehicle for satellite deployment, and the desire of the Nixon administration to reduce the costs of space exploration by developing a spacecraft with reusable components.
Six airworthy Space Shuttle orbiters have been built; the first, Enterprise, was not built for orbital space flight, and was used only for testing purposes. Five space-worthy orbiters were built: Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour. Enterprise was originally intended to be made fully space-worthy after use for the approach and landing test (ALT) program, but it was found more economical to upgrade the structural test article STA-099 into orbiter Challenger (OV-099). Challenger disintegrated 73 seconds after launch in 1986 (31 years ago), and Endeavour was built as a replacement from structural space components. Columbia broke apart during re-entry in 2003 (14 years ago).
Each Space Shuttle is a reusable launch system that is composed of three main assemblies: the reusable Orbiter Vehicle (OV), the external tank (ET), and the two reusable solid rocket boosters (SRBs). The tank and boosters are jettisoned during ascent; only the orbiter enters orbit. The vehicle is launched vertically like a conventional rocket, and the orbiter glides to a horizontal landing, after which it is refurbished for reuse. The SRBs parachute back to earth, where they are collected from the ocean and refilled for another use. Although the external tanks have always been discarded, it is possible to take them into orbit and re-use them (such as for incorporation into a space station).
Roger A. Pielke, Jr. has estimated that the Space Shuttle program has cost about US$170 billion (2008 dollars) through early 2008 (9 years ago). This works out to an average cost per flight of about US$1.5 billion.
At times, the orbiter itself is referred to as the space shuttle. Technically, this is a slight misnomer, as the actual "Space Transportation System" (Space Shuttle) is the combination of the orbiter, the external tank, and the two solid rocket boosters. Combined, these are referred to as the "Stack"; the components are assembled in the Vehicle Assembly Building, which was originally built to assemble the Apollo Saturn V rocket stacks.
LaunchAll Space Shuttle missions are launched from Kennedy Space Center (KSC). The same weather criteria used for launch are also for end of mission landing at KSC, and include precipitation (none allowed at the launch pad or flight path), temperatures above 99 degrees or below 35 degrees, a 20% or greater chance of lightning within 5 nautical miles and cloud cover allows direct visual observation of the shuttle through 8,000 feet. The shuttle will not be launched under conditions where it could be struck by lightning. Aircraft are often struck by lightning with no adverse effects because the electricity of the strike is dissipated through its conductive structure and the aircraft is not electrically grounded. Like most jet airliners, the shuttle is mainly constructed of conductive aluminum, which would normally shield and protect the internal systems. However, upon takeoff the shuttle sends out a long exhaust plume as it ascends, and this plume can trigger lightning by providing a current path to ground. The NASA Anvil Rule for a shuttle launch states that an anvil cloud cannot appear within a distance of 10 nautical miles. The Shuttle Launch Weather Officer will monitor conditions until the final decision to scrub a launch is announced. In addition, the weather conditions must be acceptable at one of the Transatlantic Abort Landing sites (one of several Space Shuttle abort modes) to launch as well as the solid rocket booster recovery area. While the shuttle might safely endure a lightning strike, a similar strike caused problems on Apollo 12, so for safety NASA chooses not to launch the shuttle if lightning is possible (NPR8715.5).
Historically, the Shuttle was not launched if its flight would run from dec. to Jan. (a year-end rollover or YERO). Its flight software, designed in the 1970s, was not designed for this, and would require the orbiter's computers be reset through a change of year, which could cause a glitch while in orbit. In 2007 (10 years ago), NASA engineers devised a solution so Shuttle flights could cross the year-end boundary.
On the day of a launch, after the final hold in the countdown at T minus 9 minutes, the Shuttle goes through its final preparations for launch, and the countdown is automatically controlled by the Ground Launch Sequencer (GLS), software at the Launch Control Center, which stops the count if it senses a critical problem with any of the Shuttle's on-board systems. The GLS hands off the count to the Shuttle's on-board computers at T minus 31 seconds, in a process called auto sequence start.
At T minus 16 seconds, the massive sound suppression system (SPS) begins to drench the Mobile Launcher Platform (MLP) and SRB trenches with 300,000 US gallons (1,100 m3) of water to protect the Orbiter from damage by acoustical energy and rocket exhaust reflected from the flame trench and MLP during liftoff.
At T-minus 10 seconds, hydrogen igniters are activated under each engine bell to quell the stagnant gas inside the cones before ignition. Failure to burn these gases can trip the onboard sensors and create the possibility of an overpressure and explosion of the vehicle during the firing phase. The main engine turbopumps also begin charging the combustion chambers with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen at this time. The computers reciprocate this action by allowing the redundant computer systems to begin the firing phase.
Shuttle launch of Atlantis at sunset in 2001 (16 years ago). The sun is behind the camera, and the plume's shadow intersects the moon across the sky.The three Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) start at T minus 6.6 seconds. The main engines ignite sequentially via the shuttle's general purpose computers (GPCs) at 120 millisecond intervals. The GPCs require that the engines reach 90% of their rated performance to complete the final gimbal of the main engine nozzles to liftoff configuration. When the SSMEs start, the water from the sound suppression system flashes into a large volume of steam that shoots southward. All three SSMEs must reach the required 100% thrust within three seconds, otherwise the onboard computers will initiate an RSLS abort. If the onboard computers verify normal thrust buildup, at T minus 0 seconds, the SRBs are ignited. At this point the vehicle is committed to takeoff, as the SRBs cannot be turned off once ignited. After the SRBs reach a stable thrust ratio, pyrotechnic nuts are detonated by radio controlled signals from the shuttle's GPC's to release the vehicle. The plume from the solid rockets exits the flame trench in a northward direction at near the speed of sound, often causing a rippling of shockwaves along the actual flame and smoke contrails. At ignition, the GPC's mandate the firing sequences via the Master Events Controller, a computer program integrated with the shuttle's four redundant computer systems. There are extensive emergency procedures (abort modes) to handle various failure scenarios during ascent. Many of these concern SSME failures, since that is the most complex and highly stressed component. After the Challenger disaster, there were extensive upgrades to the abort modes.
After the main engines start, but while the solid rocket boosters are still clamped to the pad, the offset thrust from the Shuttle's three main engines causes the entire launch stack (boosters, tank and shuttle) to pitch down about 2 m at cockpit level. This motion is called the "nod", or "twang" in NASA jargon. As the boosters flex back into their original shape, the launch stack pitches slowly back upright. This takes approximately six seconds. At the point when it is perfectly vertical, the boosters ignite and the launch commences.
Shortly after clearing the tower the Shuttle begins a roll and pitch program to set its orbital inclination and so that the vehicle is below the external tank and SRBs, with wings level. The vehicle climbs in a progressively flattening arc, accelerating as the weight of the SRBs and main tank decrease. To achieve low orbit requires much more horizontal than vertical acceleration. This is not visually obvious, since the vehicle rises vertically and is out of sight for most of the horizontal acceleration. The near circular orbital velocity at the 380 kilometers (236 mi) altitude of the International Space Station (15 walls) is 7.68 kilometers per second 27,650 km/h (17,180 mph), roughly equivalent to Mach 23 at sea level. As the International Space Station (15 walls) orbits at an inclination of 51.6 degrees, the Shuttle has to set its inclination to the same value to rendezvous with the station.
SSLV at Mach 2.46 and 66,000 ft (20,000 m). The surface of the vehicle is colored by the pressure coefficient, and the gray contours represent the density of the surrounding air, as calculated using the overflow codes.Around a point called Max Q, where the aerodynamic forces are at their maximum, the main engines are temporarily throttled back to avoid overspeeding and hence overstressing the Shuttle, particularly in vulnerable areas such as the wings. At this point, a phenomenon known as the Prandtl-Glauert singularity occurs, where condensation clouds form during the vehicle's transition to supersonic speed.
126 seconds after launch, explosive bolts release the SRBs and small separation rockets push them laterally away from the vehicle. The SRBs parachute back to the ocean to be reused. The Shuttle then begins accelerating to orbit on the Space Shuttle main engines. The vehicle at that point in the flight has a thrust-to-weight ratio of less than one – the main engines actually have insufficient thrust to exceed the force of gravity, and the vertical speed given to it by the SRBs temporarily decreases. However, as the burn continues, the weight of the propellant decreases and the thrust-to-weight ratio exceeds 1 again and the ever-lighter vehicle then continues to accelerate toward orbit.
A picture (wallpaper) taken of the afterglow from STS 119 with colors varying from white to orange.The vehicle continues to climb and takes on a somewhat nose-up angle to the horizon – it uses the main engines to gain and then maintain altitude while it accelerates horizontally towards orbit. At about five and three-quarter minutes into ascent, the orbiter rolls heads up to switch communication links from ground stations to Tracking and Data Relay Satellites.
Finally, in the last tens of seconds of the main engine burn, the mass of the vehicle is low enough that the engines must be throttled back to limit vehicle acceleration to 3 g (30 m/s²), largely for astronaut comfort.
The main engines are shut down before complete depletion of propellant, as running dry would destroy the engines. The oxygen supply is terminated before the hydrogen supply, as the SSMEs react unfavorably to other shutdown modes. (Liquid oxygen has a tendency to react violently, and supports combustion when it encounters hot engine metal.) The external tank is released by firing explosive bolts and falls, largely burning up in the atmosphere, though some fragments fall into the ocean, in either the Indian Ocean or the Pacific Ocean depending on launch profile. The sealing action of the tank plumbing and lack of pressure relief systems on the external tank helps it break up in the lower atmosphere. After the foam burns away during reentry, the heat causes a pressure buildup in the remaining liquid oxygen and hydrogen until the tank explodes. This ensures that any pieces that fall back to Earth are small.
To prevent the shuttle from following the external tank back into the lower atmosphere, the Orbital maneuvering system (OMS) engines are fired to raise the perigee higher into the upper atmosphere. On some missions (e.g., missions to the ISS), the OMS engines are also used while the main engines are still firing. The reason for putting the orbiter on a path that brings it back to Earth is not just for external tank disposal but also one of safety: if the OMS malfunctions, or the cargo bay doors cannot open for some reason, the shuttle is already on a path to return to earth for an emergency abort landing.
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