(Redirected from Space Shuttle
The Space Shuttle Columbia seconds after engine ignition, 1981 (NASA). For the first two missions only, the external fuel tank was painted white.
NASA's Space Shuttle, officially called Space Transportation System (STS), is the United States' sole manned launch vehicle. The Space Shuttle was manufactured by North American Rockwell, now part of the Boeing Company. Other parts were manufactured by Lockheed Martin and RocketDyne for solid rocket boosters and heat-resistant tiles.
The shuttle is the first spacecraft designed for partial reusability. The shuttle carries large payloads to various orbits, provides crew rotation for the International Space Station (ISS), and performs servicing missions. While the vehicle was designed with the capacity to recover satellites and other payloads from orbit and return them to Earth, this capacity has not been used often; it is, however, an important use of the Space Shuttle in the context of the ISS program, as only very small amounts of experimental material, hardware needing to be repaired, and trash can be returned by Soyuz.
Each shuttle was designed for a projected lifespan of 100 launches or 10 years operational life.
The program started in the late 1960s and has dominated NASA's manned operations since the mid 1970s.
There have been no launches since the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster at the end of STS-107 in 2003. The next mission, referred to as "Return to Flight", will be STS-114. It is currently scheduled for May 22, 2005. After a post-disaster review of the program, NASA decided that the Orbiter must be inspected externally each mission on orbit before reentry, a task which the agency has decided is too expensive to be done without the facilities of the ISS. Therefore, for example, further service missions to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) are impractical, because the Orbiter is incapable of reaching both HST and ISS during the same mission.
According to the Vision for Space Exploration, use of the Space Shuttle will be focused on completing assembly of the ISS in 2010, after which it will be replaced by the yet-to-be-developed Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV).
The Shuttle decision
NASA had conducted a series of paper-projects throughout the 1960s on the topic of reusable spacecrafts to replace their expedient "one-off" systems like Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. Meanwhile, the Air Force had a continuing interest in smaller systems with more rapid turn-around times, and were involved in their own spaceplane project, the X-20 Dyna-Soar. In several instances groups from both worked together to investigate the state of the art.
With the major Apollo development effort winding down in the second half of the 1960s, NASA started looking to the future of the space program. They envisioned an ambitious program consisting of a large space station being launched on huge boosters, served by a reusable logistics "space shuttle", both providing services for a permanently manned Lunar colony and eventual manned missions to Mars.
However reality was to interject and NASA found themselves with a rapidly plunging budget. Rather than stepping back and looking at their future as a whole given their new financial situation, they attempted to save as many of the individual projects as possible. The mission to Mars was quickly eliminated, but the Space Station and Shuttle continued on. Eventually only one of them could be saved, so it stood to reason that a low-cost Shuttle system would be the better bet, because without it a large station would never be affordable.
A number of designs were proposed, but many of them were complex and varied widely in their systems. An attempt to re-simplify was made in the form of the "DC-3" by one of the few people left in NASA with the political clout to pull it off, Maxime Faget, who had designed the Mercury capsule, among others. The DC-3 was a small craft with a 20,000 pound (9 tonnes) (or less) payload, a four-man crew, and limited maneuverability. At a minimum, the DC-3 provided a baseline "workable" (but not terribly advanced) system by which other systems could be compared for price/performance tradeoffs.
Shuttle Launch at Sunset. The sun is behind the camera, and the shadow of the plume is cast across the roof of the sky, intersecting the moon.
The final defining moment was when NASA, in desperation to see their only remaining project saved, went to the Air Force for its blessing. NASA asked that the USAF place all of their future launches on the shuttle instead of their current expendable launchers (like the Titan II), in return for which they would no longer have to continue spending money upgrading those designs -- the shuttle would provide more than enough capability.
The Air Force relucantly agreed, but only after demanding a large increase in capability to allow for launching their projected spy satellites (mirrors are heavy). These were quite large, weighing an estimated 40,000 pounds (18 tonnes), and needed to be put into polar orbit, which requires more energy to get to than the more common low Earth orbit. And since the Air Force also wanted to be able to abort after a single orbit (as did NASA), and land at the launch site (unlike NASA), the spacecraft would also require the ability to maneuver significantly to either side of its orbital track to adjust for the launching point rotating away from it while in polar orbit - in a 90 minute orbit Vandenberg would move over 1,000 miles (1,600 km), whereas in a "normal" equatorial orbit NASA needed the range would be less than 400. This large 'cross-range' capability meant the craft had to have a greater lift-to-drag ratio than originally planned. This required the addition of bigger, heavier wings.
The result was that the simple DC-3 was clearly out of the picture because it had neither the cargo capacity nor the cross-range the Air Force demanded. In fact all existing designs were far too small, as a 40,000 pound (18 tonnes) delivery to polar orbit equates to a 65,000 pound (29 tonnes) delivery to a "normal" 28 degree equatorial orbit. In fact any design using simple straight or fold-out wings was not going to meet the cross range requirements, so any future design would require a more complex, heavier delta wing.
Worse, any increase in the weight of the upper portion of a launch vehicle, which had just occurred, requires an even bigger increase in the capability of the lower stage used to launch it. Suddenly the two-stage system grew in size to something larger than the Saturn V, and the complexity and costs to develop it skyrocketed.
While all of this was going on, others were suggesting a completely different approach to the future. They stated that NASA was better off using the existing Saturn to launch their space station, supplied and manned using modified Gemini capsules on top of the Air Force's newer Titan II-M. The cost of development for this looked to be considerably less than the shuttle alone, and would have a large space station in orbit earlier.
The answer of those groups dedicated to the shuttle was that if you have enough launches, the development cost of the system is overwhelmed by the cost of the rockets that would otherwise be thrown away. One factor that needed to be considered though was inflation, and in the 1970s this was high enough that the payback from the development had to happen very quickly or that money would never pay for itself. In other words a very high launch rate was needed to make the system work.
But there was no way that a space station or Air Force payloads could demand such rates (roughly 1 to 2 per week), so they went further and suggested that all future US launches would take place on the shuttle, once built. In order to do this the cost of launching the shuttle would have to be lower than any other system with the exception of the very small, which they ignored for practical reasons, and very large, which were rare and terribly expensive anyway.
With a baseline project now gelling, NASA started to work though the process of obtaining stable funding for the five years the project would take to develop. Here too they found themselves increasingly backed into a corner.
With the budgets being pressed by inflation at home and the Vietnam War abroad, Congress and the Administration generally couldn't care less about anything as long-term as space exploration and were therefore looking to make further deep cuts to NASAs budget. But with a single long term project on the books, there wasn't much they could do in terms of cutting whole projects - the shuttle was all that was left, cut that and there would be no US manned space program by 1980.
Instead they looked to reduce the year-to-year costs of development to a stable figure. That is, they wished to see the development budgets spread out over several more years. This is somewhat difficult to do--you can't build half a rocket. The result was another intense series of redesigns in which the re-usable booster was eventually abandoned as impossible to pay for. Instead a series of simpler rockets would launch the system, and then drop away for recovery. Another change was that the fuel for the shuttle itself was placed in an external tank instead of internal tanks from the previous designs. This allowed a larger payload bay in an otherwise much smaller craft, although it also meant throwing away the tankage after each launch.
The last remaining debate was over the nature of the boosters. NASA had been looking at no less than four solutions to this problem, one a development of the existing Saturn lower stage, another using "dumb" pressure-fed liquid fuel engines of a new design, and finally either a large single solid rocket, or two (or more) smaller ones. The decision was eventually made on the smaller solids due to their lower development costs (a decision that had been echoed throughout the whole Shuttle program). While the liquid fueled systems provided better performace and enhanced safety, delivery capability to orbit is much more a function of the upper-stage performance and weight than the lower. The money was simply better spent elsewhere.
The shuttle program was launched on January 5, 1972, when President Richard M. Nixon announced that NASA would proceed with the development of a reusable low cost space shuttle system.
The project was already to take longer than originally anticipated due to the year-to-year funding caps. Nevertheless work started quickly and several test articles were available within a few years.
Most notable among these was the first complete Orbiter, originally to be known as Constitution. However a massive write-in campaign on the part of fans of the TV show Star Trek convinced the White House to change the name to Enterprise. Enterprise was rolled out on September 17, 1976 and later conducted a very successful series of landing tests which was the first real validation of the gliding abilities of the design.
The first fully functional shuttle orbiter, built in Palmdale, California, was the Columbia, which was delivered to Kennedy Space Center on March 25, 1979 and was first launched on April 12, 1981 with a crew of two. Challenger was delivered to KSC in July 1982, Discovery was delivered in November 1983, and Atlantis was delivered in April 1985. The shuttle was meant to visit Space Station Freedom, announced in 1984, an ambitious and much-delayed project later downsized and merged into the International Space Station program. Challenger was destroyed in an explosion during launch on January 28, 1986 with the loss of all seven astronauts on board, and Endeavour was built as a replacement (using spare parts originally built for the other orbiters) and delivered in May 1991. Columbia was lost, with all seven crew, during re-entry on February 1, 2003.
Reusable orbiter (center) External tank (copper colored object at top center), Boosters (to the right and left of external tank)
The Space Shuttle consists of four main components; the reuseable orbiter itself, a large expendable external fuel tank, and a pair of reusable solid-fuel booster rockets. The fuel tank and booster rockets are jettisoned during ascent. The longest the shuttle has stayed in orbit in a single mission is 17.5 days, on mission STS-80 in November 1996.
The Shuttle has a large payload bay taking up much of its length. The payload bay doors have heat radiators mounted on their inner surfaces, and so are kept open while the Shuttle is in orbit for thermal control. Thermal control is also maintained by adjusting the orientation of the Shuttle relative to Earth and Sun. Inside the payload bay is the Remote Manipulator System, also known as the Canadarm, a robot arm used to retrieve and deploy payloads. Until the loss of Columbia, the Canadarm had only been included on missions where it was used in the mission as such. Since the arm is a crucial part of the Thermal Protection Inspection procedures now required for shuttle flights, it will likely be included on all future flights.
The Space Shuttle system has had numerous improvements over the years. The Orbiter has changed its thermal protection system several times in order to save weight and ease workload. The original silica-based ceramic tiles need to be inspected for damage after every flight, and they also soak up water and thus need to be protected from the rain. The latter problem was initially fixed by spraying the tiles with Scotchgard, but a custom solution was later developed. Later many of the tiles on the cooler portions of the Shuttle were replaced by large blankets of insulating felt-like material, which means huge areas (notably the cargo bay area) no longer have to be inspected as much.
Internally the Shuttle remains largely similar to the original design, with the exception that the avionics continues to be improved. The original systems were "hardened" IBM 360 computers connected to analog displays in the cockpit similar to contemporary airliners like the DC-10. Today the cockpits are being replaced with "all glass" systems and the computers themselves are many times faster. The computers use the HAL/S programming language. In the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project tradition, programmable calculators are carried as well (originally the HP-41C). In addition to the "glass cockpit" several improvements have been made for safety reasons after the Challenger explosion, including a crew escape system for use in situation that require the Orbiter to "ditch". With the coming of the Space Station, the Orbiter's internal airlocks are being replaced with external docking systems to allow for a greater amount of cargo to be stored on the shuttle mid-deck during Station resupply missions.
Shuttle orbiter, showing Shuttle main engines
The Space Shuttle Main Engines have had several improvements to enhance reliability and power. This is why during launch you may hear curious phrases such as "Go to throttle-up at 106%". This does not mean the engines are being run over-limit. The 100% figure is the power level for the original main engines. The actual engine contract requirement was for 109%. The original flight engines could handle 102%. The 109% number was finally reached in flight hardware with the Block II engines in 2001.
For STS-1 and STS-2 the external tank was painted white to protect the insulation that covers much of the tank, but improvements and testing showed that it was not required. This saved considerable weight, and thereby increases the payload the orbiter can carry into orbit. Additional weight was saved by removing some of the internal "stringers" in the hydrogen tank which proved to be unneeded in flight. The resulting "light weight external tank" has been used on the vast majority of shuttle missions. STS-91 saw the first flight of the "super light weight external tank". This version of the tank is made of the 2195 Aluminum-Lithium alloy. It weighs 7,500 lb (3.4 t) less than the last run of light-weight tanks. As the Shuttle cannot fly unmanned, each of these improvements have been "tested" on operational flights.
And, of course, the SRBs have undergone improvements as well. Notable is the adding of a third O-ring seal to the joints between the segments, which occurred after the Challenger accident.
A number of other SRB improvements were planned in order to improve performance and safety, but never came to be. These culminated in the considerably simpler, lower cost, probably safer and better performing Advanced Solid Rocket Booster which was to have entered production in the early to mid 1990s to support the Space Station, but was later cancelled to save money after $2.2 billion had been spent. The loss of the ASRB program forced the development of the SLWT, which provides some of the increased payload capability while not providing any of the safety improvements. In addition the Air Force developed their own much lighter single-piece design using a filament-wound system, but this too was cancelled.
The Space Shuttle consists of four main components:
- the reuseable Orbiter Vehicle (OV), with a large payload bay and three main engines (used while the external fuel tank is attached) and an orbital maneuvering system with two smaller engines (used after the external tank has been disposed of)
- a large expendable external fuel tank (ET) containing liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen (at the forward and aft ends, respectively) for the three main engines of the orbiter; it is discarded 8.5 minutes after launch at an altitude of 109 kilometers and breaks up in the atmosphere upon reentry; the pieces fall in the ocean and are not recovered)
- a pair of reusable solid-fuel rocket boosters (SRB); the propellant consists mainly of ammonium perchlorate (oxidizer, 70% by weight) and aluminum (fuel, 16 %); they are separated two minutes after launch at a height of 66 km and are recovered after landing in the ocean, their fall slowed by parachutes
Initial plans for the so-called Space Transportation System included space tugs and extra fuel tanks for the orbital maneuvering systems among many other concepts. None of them made it to actual hardware.
- Space Shuttle stack height: 56.14 m (184.2 ft)
- Orbiter alone: 37.23 m (122.17 ft) long
- Wingspan: 23.79 m (78.06 ft)
- Mass at liftoff: 2,041,000 kg (4.5 million lb)
- ET 751,000 kg
- SRB 2 x 590,000 = 1,180,000 kg
Thrust at lift-off 34.8 MN:
- Mass at end of mission: 104,000 kg (230,000 lb)
- Maximum cargo to orbit: 28,800 kg (63,500 lb)
- Orbit: 185 to 643 km (115 to 400 statute miles)
- Velocity: 27,875 km/h (7.7 km/s, 17,321 mi/h)
- Passenger Capacity: 10 Astronauts (crews other than 5 to 7 are uncommon, 8 was largest crew)
In the case of problems during launch the operation of the SRBs can not be stopped. After their ignition abort modes apply to the phase where they have burnt out and been disconnected. There are the following abort modes:
- Return To Launch Site (RTLS) - has never occurred
- East Coast Abort Landing (ECAL) - has never occurred
- Transoceanic Abort Landing (TAL) - has never occurred
- Abort Once Around (AOA) - has never occurred
- Abort to Orbit (ATO) - happened on STS-51-F mission; required mission replanning, but the mission was declared a success anyway.
The abort mode would depend on when in the ascent phase an abort became necessary. As far as the hydrogen and oxygen are not needed they are used up deliberately to allow the ET to be discarded safely.
A TAL would be declared between roughly T+2:30 minutes (liftoff plus 2 minutes, 30 seconds) and Main Engine Cutoff (MECO), about T+8:30 minutes. The shuttle would then land at a predesignated friendly airstrip in Africa or Europe; Potential sites include Istres/Le Tube Air Base in France; Banjul International Airport in The Gambia; and Zaragoza Air Base and Morón Air Base in Spain. Prior to a shuttle launch, two of them are selected depending on the flight plan, and staffed with standby personnel in case they are used. The list of TAL sites has changed over time, most recently Ben Guerir Air Base in Morocco was discarded due to terrorism concerns.
If the Orbiter is unable to reach a runway this results in water ditching or landing on terrain other than a landing site. It is unlikely that flight crew still on board survives. However, in the case the Orbiter would be in controlled gliding flight, the In-flight Crew Escape System allows escaping with a parachute. A special Escape Pole provides the crewmember with a trajectory that will carry him or her beneath the Orbiter's left wing.
In the two disasters, things went wrong so fast that little could be done, except that on the STS-51-L the SRBs which were still burning after being disconnected from the rest of the stack, were destroyed with on-board explosives designed for this emergency purpose (the Range Safety System) by remote command from NASA.
- Handling test article designed with no spacegoing capability whatsoever:
- Main propulsion test article, with no spacegoing capability whatsoever:
- MPTA-ET (External Tank) which is now attached to Pathfinder
- MPTA-098 suffered major damage due to engine failure.
- Structural test article, with no spacegoing capability before refit:
- Test vehicle suitable only for glide/landing tests, with no spacegoing capability without major refit:
- Lost in accidents (see below):
- In use:
- crew rotation of the ISS
- manned servicing missions, such as to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST)
- manned experiments in LEO
- carry to LEO:
- large satellites - these have included the HST
- components for the construction of the ISS
- carry satellites with a booster, the Payload Assist Module (PAM-D) or the Inertial Upper Stage (IUS), to the point where the booster sends the satellite to
- a higher Earth orbit; these have included:
- an interplanetary orbit; these have included:
Flight statistics (as of February 3, 2003)
||7 / 6
||0 / 0
||0 / 0
||1 / 4
||1 / 6
||9 / 16
Two shuttles have been destroyed, both with the loss of all astronauts on board:
While the shuttle has been a reasonably successful launch vehicle, it has been unable to meet its goal of radically reducing flight launch costs, as each flight costs on the order of $500 million rather than initial projections of $10 to $20 million. The total cost of the program has been $145 billion, $112 billion of which was incurred while the program was operational. 
The original mission of the shuttle was to operate at a high flight rate, at low cost, and with high reliability. It was intended to improve greatly on the previous generation of single-use manned and unmanned vehicles. Although it did operate as the world's first reusable crew-carrying spacecraft, it did not improve on those parameters in any meaningful way, and is considered by some to have failed in its original purpose.
Although the design is radically different from the original concept, the project was still supposed to meet the upgraded AF goals, and to be much cheaper to fly in general. One reason behind this apparent failure appears to be inflation. During the 1970s the US suffered severe inflation, driving up costs about 200% by 1980. In contrast, the rate between 1990 and 2000 was only 34% in total. This has the effect of magnifying the development costs of the shuttle tremendously. The original process by which contractors bid for Shuttle work has also inflated overall project costs as there were political and industrial pressures to spread Shuttle work around. For instance the need for a single piece SRB design was dismissed as only one company was located close enough to the Launch site to make this viable. Morton Thiokol who secured the SRB contract are based in Utah making it necessary to have the modular design that contributed to the Challenger loss. Ironically the US aerospace mergers of the 1990s mean that the vast majority of the STS contracts are now held by only one company (Boeing).
However, this does not explain the high costs of the continued operations of the shuttle. Even accounting for inflation, the launch costs on the original estimates should be about $100 million today. The remaining $400 million arises from the operational details of maintaining and servicing the shuttle fleet, which have turned out to be tremendously more expensive than anticipated.
When originally conceived, the shuttle was to operate similarly to an airliner. After landing, the Orbiter would be checked out and start "mating" to the rest of the system (the ET and SRBs), and be ready for launch in as little as two weeks. Instead, this turnaround process takes months. This is due to the continued "upgrading" of the inspection process as a result of hardware decisions made to reduce short-term development costs at the expense of higher maintenance requirements. The upgrading was only exacerbated in the aftermath of the Challenger. Even simple tasks now require unbelievable amounts of paperwork. This paperwork results from the fact that, unlike current expendable launch vehicles, the Space Shuttle is manned and has no escape systems to speak of, and therefore any accident which would result in the loss of booster would also result in the loss of the crew. Because loss of crew is unacceptable, the primary focus of the shuttle program is to return the crew to Earth safely, which can conflict with other goals, namely to launch satellites cheaply. Furthermore, because there are cases where there are no abort modes - no potential way to prevent failure from becoming critical - many pieces of hardware simply must function perfectly and so must be carefully inspected before each flight. The result is a massively inflated manpower bill, with workers numbering around 25,000 in shuttle operations (perhaps an older number).
Initially NASA hoped the Shuttle's manned capacity would be justified as a 'space taxi' to a revived Skylab or a Saturn V launched 'Skylab 2'. With the go ahead for the large modular "Freedom" Space Station proposal the Shuttle appeared to have a continued justification with the prospect of a 6 to 10 crew outpost only being servicable by the Shuttle. The cutting back of the Space Station capacity in the 1990s ultimately made the capacity of the Shuttle as a manned ferry obsolete.
NASA's justification of the STS for its own unmanned science missions has also declined. Following the Challenger disaster using the STS to launch the more powerful upper stages required for interplanetary probes was ruled out. The Shuttle's tendency for delays also makes it liable to miss the narrow launch windows. Advances in technology over the last decade have made probes smaller and lighter and as a result it is possible to reach Mars using a relatively cheap and reliable Delta launcher.
Another possible impediment to the shuttle system is the participation of the United States Air Force. While NASA involved it in the first place, it was the Air Force requirements that drove the system to be as complex and expensive as it is today. Ironically, neither NASA nor the Air Force got the system they wanted or needed, and the Air Force eventually returned to their older launch systems and abandoned their Vandenburg shuttle launch plans. The capabilities that most seriously hobbled the Shuttle system — namely the 65,000 pound (29 tonnes) payload, large payload bay, and 1000 mile (1,600 km) cross-range — have in fact, except for the payload bay, never been used.
Opinions differ on the lessons of the shuttle. In general, however, future designers look to systems with only one stage, automated checkout, and in some cases, overdesigned (more durable) low-tech systems.
The shuttle in fiction
Even before the first space shuttle was launched, science fiction filmmakers were already featuring the craft (sometimes taking extreme liberties with its physical design and operations) in their productions. One of the first fictional uses of the space shuttle was in the 1979 James Bond film, Moonraker, in which a fleet of privately-produced shuttles was used to ferry personnel to a space station operated by the evil Sir Hugo Drax. That film was actually intended to premiere concurrently with the first shuttle launch, which was ultimately delayed. That same year, a new version of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century produced for television had the titular hero frozen in space for 500 years aboard Ranger 3, a deep space probe that looked exactly like a traditional shuttle. The low budget 1980 film Hanger 18 features a shuttle crew that encounters an alien craft in orbit.
A version of the shuttle also appeared in the comedy film Airplane II: The Sequel in the early 1980s, in which it was used as a passenger liner between Earth and the Moon and experiences a traditional "airline disaster film" scenario en route.
After the shuttle's launch, the craft played a role in a number of NASA-themed films such as SpaceCamp (in which a group of teenagers accidentally launch a shuttle into orbit) and a late-1990s series entitled The Cape which followed the lives of a group of fictional shuttle astronauts. The 1999 science fiction series, Farscape, featured footage of an actual shuttle launch in its first episode, although the name of the craft shown was digitally altered to a fictional one. The 1983 TV movie Starflight One also uses actual Shuttle launch footage when Columbia is used to rescue an experimental plane that gets trapped in low Earth orbit.
In the 1985 horror movie Lifeforce a modified shuttle is sent on a mission to Halley's Comet. In the 1998 film Armageddon, two modified shuttles are launched on a mission to intercept an asteroid with modified footage of actual shuttle launches being used.
The Columbia was seen in episode 19 ("Wild Horses") of the 1998 anime series Cowboy Bebop. In the episode, the disabled space fighter of main character Spike Spiegel docks inside the payload bay. This episode was temporarily pulled from the rotation on Cartoon Network after the real shuttle was lost.
The 2002 disaster movie The Core featured a shuttle having to make an emergency landing. After the Columbia accident, references to this in the film's trailer were removed.
The series Star Trek: Enterprise paid tribute to Columbia in a 2004 episode by giving Starfleet's second Warp 5 starship that name.
In the cartoon The Transformers, two robots transform into space shuttles. The DecepticonTriple Changer Astro Train , and the Autobot Sky Lynx.
The series The West Wing, in the season 6 final episode, alludes to a super-secret military space shuttle that could theoretically be used for long range and undetectable bombing from space.