Space Shuttle

Space Shuttle
Discovery lifts off at the start of STS-120.
FunctionCrewed orbital launch and reentry
ManufacturerUnited Space Alliance
Thiokol/Alliant Techsystems (SRBs)
Lockheed Martin/Martin Marietta (ET)
Boeing/Rockwell (orbiter)
Country of originUnited States
Project costUS$209 billion (2010)[1][2][3]
Cost per launchUS$450 million (2011)[4] to 1.5 billion (2011)[2][3][5][6]
Height56.1 m (184 ft 1 in)
Diameter8.7 m (28 ft 7 in)
Mass2,030,000 kg (4,470,000 lb)
Payload to LEO27,500 kg (60,600 lb)
Payload to ISS16,050 kg (35,380 lb)
Payload to GTO3,810 kg (8,400 lb)
Payload to Polar orbit12,700 kg (28,000 lb)
Payload to Earth return14,400 kg (31,700 lb)[7]
Launch history
Launch sitesLC-39, Kennedy Space Center
SLC-6, Vandenberg AFB (unused)
Total launches135
Successes134 launches and 133 landings
Challenger (launch failure, 7 fatalities),
Columbia (re-entry failure, 7 fatalities)
First flightApril 12, 1981
Last flightJuly 21, 2011
Notable payloadsTracking and Data Relay Satellites
Hubble Space Telescope
Galileo, Magellan, Ulysses
Compton Gamma Ray Observatory
Mir Docking Module
Chandra X-ray Observatory
ISS components
Boosters – Solid Rocket Boosters
Engines2 solid
Thrust12,500 kN (2,800,000 lbf) each, sea level liftoff
Specific impulse269 seconds (2.64 km/s)
Burn time124 s
FuelSolid (Ammonium perchlorate composite propellant)
First stage – Orbiter plus External Tank
Engines3 SSMEs located on Orbiter
Thrust5,250 kN (1,180,000 lbf) total, sea level liftoff [8]
Specific impulse455 seconds (4.46 km/s)
Burn time480 s
No. boosters2[9]

The Space Shuttle was a partially reusable low Earth orbital spacecraft system operated by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as part of the Space Shuttle program. Its official program name was Space Transportation System (STS), taken from a 1969 plan for a system of reusable spacecraft of which it was the only item funded for development.[10] The first of four orbital test flights occurred in 1981, leading to operational flights beginning in 1982. In addition to the prototype whose completion was cancelled, five complete Shuttle systems were built and used on a total of 135 missions from 1981 to 2011, launched from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Operational missions launched numerous satellites, interplanetary probes, and the Hubble Space Telescope (HST); conducted science experiments in orbit; and participated in construction and servicing of the International Space Station. The Shuttle fleet's total mission time was 1322 days, 19 hours, 21 minutes and 23 seconds.[11]

Shuttle components included the Orbiter Vehicle (OV) with three clustered Rocketdyne RS-25 main engines, a pair of recoverable solid rocket boosters (SRBs), and the expendable external tank (ET) containing liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The Space Shuttle was launched vertically, like a conventional rocket, with the two SRBs operating in parallel with the OV's three main engines, which were fueled from the ET. The SRBs were jettisoned before the vehicle reached orbit, and the ET was jettisoned just before orbit insertion, which used the orbiter's two Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) engines. At the conclusion of the mission, the orbiter fired its OMS to de-orbit and re-enter the atmosphere. The orbiter then glided as a spaceplane to a runway landing, usually to the Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center, Florida or Rogers Dry Lake in Edwards Air Force Base, California. After landing at Edwards, the orbiter was flown back to the KSC on the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, a specially modified Boeing 747.

The first orbiter, Enterprise, was built in 1976, used in Approach and Landing Tests and had no orbital capability. Four fully operational orbiters were initially built: Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, and Atlantis. Of these, two were lost in mission accidents: Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003, with a total of fourteen astronauts killed. A fifth operational (and sixth in total) orbiter, Endeavour, was built in 1991 to replace Challenger. The Space Shuttle was retired from service upon the conclusion of Atlantis's final flight on July 21, 2011. The U.S. has since relied on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to transport astronauts to the International Space Station, pending the Commercial Crew Development and Space Launch System programs on schedule for first flights in 2019 and 2020.

Design and development

Historical background

The X-24A, M2-F3, and HL-10 lifting bodies

During the 1950s, the United States Air Force proposed using a reusable piloted glider to perform military operations such as reconnaissance, satellite attack, and employing air-to-ground weapons. In the late-1950s, the Air Force began developing the partially reusable X-20 Dyna-Soar. The Air Force collaborated with NASA on the Dyna-Soar, and began training 6 pilots in June 1961. The rising costs of development and the prioritization of Project Gemini led to the cancellation of the Dyna-Soar program in December 1963. In addition to the Dyna-Soar, the Air Force conducted a study in 1957 to test the feasibility of reusable boosters. This became the basis for the Aerospaceplane, a fully reusable spacecraft that was never developed beyond the initial design phase in 1962–1963.[12]:162–163

Beginning in the early 1950s, NASA and the Air Force collaborated on developing lifting bodies to test aircraft that primarily generated lift from their fuselages instead of wings, and tested the M2-F1, M2-F2, M2-F3, HL-10, X-24A, and the X-24B. The program tested aerodynamic characteristics that would later be applied to the Space Shuttle, including unpowered landing from a high altitude and speed.[13][14]:16–18

Design process

President Nixon (right) with NASA Administrator Fletcher in January 1972

In September 1966, NASA and the Air Force released a joint study concluding that a new vehicle was required to satisfy their respective future demands, and that a partially reusable system would be the most cost-effective solution.[12]:164 The head of the NASA Office of Manned Space Flight, George Mueller, announced the plan for a reusable shuttle on August 10, 1968. NASA issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for designs of the Integrated Launch and Re-entry Vehicle (ILRV), which would later become the Space Shuttle. Rather than award a contract based upon initial proposals, NASA announced a phased approach for the Space Shuttle contracting and development; Phase A was a request for studies completed by competing aerospace companies, Phase B was a competition between two contractors for a specific contract, Phase C involved designing the details of the spacecraft components, and Phase D was the production of the spacecraft.[15][14]:19–22

In December 1968, NASA created the Space Shuttle Task Group to determine the optimal design for a reusable spacecraft, and issued study contracts to General Dynamics, Lockheed, McDonnell Douglas, and North American Rockwell. In July 1969, the Space Shuttle Task Group issued a report that determined that the shuttle would be required to support a space station, launch, service, and retrieve satellites, and support short-duration manned missions. The report also created three classes of a future reusable shuttle: Class I would have a reusable orbiter mounted on expendable boosters, Class II would use stage-and-a-half staging, and Class III would have both a reusable orbiter and booster. In September 1969, the Space Task Group, under leadership of Vice President Spiro Agnew, issued a report calling for the development of a space shuttle to bring people and cargo to low Earth orbit (LEO), as well as a space tug to for transfers between orbits and the moon, and a reusable nuclear stage for deep space travel.[12]:163–166[10]

After the release of the Space Shuttle Task Group report, many aerospace engineers favored the Class III, fully reusable design because of perceived savings in hardware costs. Max Faget, a NASA engineer who had worked to design the Mercury capsule, patented a design for a two-stage fully recoverable system with a straight-winged orbiter mounted on a larger straight-winged booster.[16][17] The Air Force Flight Dynamics Laboratory argued that a straight-wing design would not be able to withstand the high thermal and aerodynamic stresses during reentry, and would not provide the required cross-range capability. Additionally, the Air Force required a larger payload capacity than Faget's design allowed. In January 1971, NASA and Air Force leadership decided that a reusable delta-wing orbiter mounted on an expendable propellant tank would be the optimal design for the space shuttle.[12]:166

After establishing the need for a reusable, heavy-lift spacecraft, NASA and the Air Force began determining the design requirements of their respective services. The Air Force expected to launch large satellites into a polar orbit, and that the Space Shuttle have a 15 by 60 foot payload bay, 1,100 mile cross-range, and the capacity to lift 65,000 pounds to an easterly low Earth orbit, and 40,000 pounds into polar orbit. NASA evaluated the F-1 and J-2 engines from the Saturn rockets, and determined that they were insufficient for the requirements of the Space Shuttle, and in July 1971, it issued a contract to Rocketdyne to begin development on the RS-25 engine.[12]:165–170

NASA reviewed twenty-nine potential designs for the Space Shuttle. NASA determined that a design with two side boosters should be used, and the boosters should be reusable to reduce costs. NASA and the Air Force elected to use solid-propellant boosters because of the lower costs and the ease of refurbishing them for reuse after they landed in the ocean. In January 1972, President Richard Nixon approved the shuttle, and NASA decided on its final design in March. In August 1972, NASA awarded the contract to build the orbiter to North American Rockwell, the solid-rocket booster contract to Morton Thiokol, and the external tank contract to Martin Marietta.[12]:167, 170–173


Columbia undergoing installation of its ceramic tiles

On June 4, 1974, Rockwell began construction on the first shuttle, Orbiter Vehicle (OV)-101, which would later be named Enterprise. Enterprise was designed as a test vehicle, and did not include engines or heat shielding. Construction was completed on September 17, 1976, and Enterprise was moved to Edwards AFB to begin testing.[12]:173[18] Rockwell also constructed the Main Propulson Test Article (MPTA)-098, which was later fit with RS-25 engines and tested at the National Space Technology Laboratory (NSTL). Rockwell conducted structural tests on Structural Test Article (STA)-099 to determine the effect of aerodynamic stresses.[14]:38–39

The beginning of the development of the RS-25 Space Shuttle Main Engine was delayed for nine months while Pratt & Whitney challenged the contract that had been issued to Rocketdyne. The first engine was completed in March 1975, after issues with developing the first throttlable, reusable engine. During engine testing, the RS-25 experienced multiple nozzle failures, as well as broken turbine blades. Despite the problems during testing, NASA ordered the nine RS-25 engines needed for its three orbiters under construction in May 1978.[12]:174–175

NASA experienced significant delays in the development of the Space Shuttle's thermal protection system. Previous NASA spacecraft had used ablative heat shields, but those could not be reused. NASA chose to use ceramic tiles for thermal protection, as the shuttle could then be constructed of lightweight aluminum, and the tiles could be individually replaced as needed. Construction began on Columbia on March 27, 1975, and it was delivered to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on March 25, 1979. At the time of its arrival at the KSC, Columbia still had 6,000 of its 30,000 tiles remaining to be installed. However, many of the tiles that had been originally installed had to be replaced, requiring two years of installation before Columbia could fly.[12]:175–177[14]:46–48

On January 5, 1979, NASA commissioned a second orbiter. Later that month, Rockwell began converting STA-099 to OV-099, later named Challenger. On January 29, 1979, NASA ordered two additional orbiters, OV-103 and OV-104, which were named Discovery and Atlantis. Construction of OV-105, later named Endeavour, began in February 1982, but NASA decided to limit the Space Shuttle fleet to four orbiters in 1983. After the loss of Challenger, NASA resumed production of Endeavour in September 1987.[14]:52–53


Enterprise during the Approach and Landing Tests
Columbia launching on STS-1[note 1]

After it arrived at Edwards AFB, Enterprise underwent flight testing with the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, a Boeing 747 that was modified to carry the orbiter. In February 1977, Enterprise it began the Approach and Landing Tests and underwent captive flights, where it remained attached to the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft for the duration of the flight. On August 12, 1977, Enterprise conducted its first glide test, where it detached from the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft and landed at Edwards AFB.[12]:173–174 After four additional flights, Enterprise was moved to the Marshall Space Flight Center on March 13, 1978. Enterprise underwent shake tests in the Mated Vertical Ground Vibration Test, where it was attached to an external tank and solid rocket boosters, and underwent vibrations to simulate the stresses of launch. In April 1979, Enterprise was taken to the Kennedy Space Center, where it was attached to an external tank and solid rocket boosters, and moved to LC-39. Once installed at the launch pad, the Space Shuttle was used to verify the proper positioning of launch complex hardware. Enterprise was taken back to California in August 1979, and later served in the development of the SLC-6 at Vandenberg AFB in 1984.[14]:40–41

On November 26, 1980, Columbia was mated with its external tank and solid-rocket boosters, and was moved to LC-39 on December 29, 1980. The first Space Shuttle mission, STS-1, would be the first time NASA performed a crewed first-flight of a spacecraft. On April 12, 1981, the Space Shuttle launched for the first time, and was piloted by John Young and Robert Crippen. During the two-day mission, Young and Crippen tested equipment on board the shuttle, and found several of the ceramic tiles had fallen off the top side of the Columbia. NASA coordinated with the Air Force to use satellites to image the underside of Columbia, and determined there was no damage. Columbia reentered the atmosphere on April 14, and landed at Edwards AFB.[14]:48–52[12]:177–178

NASA conducted three additional test flights with Columbia in 1981 and 1982. On July 4, 1982, STS-4, flown by Ken Mattingly and Henry Hartsfield, landed at Edwards AFB. President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy met the crew, and delivered a speech. After STS-4, NASA declared the Space Shuttle operational.[12]:178–179

Other Languages
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brezhoneg: Egorvulzun
čeština: Space Shuttle
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português: Ônibus espacial
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吴语: 航天飞机
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粵語: 穿梭機
中文: 航天飞机