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$ 210 billion (2010)[1][2][3]
Cost per launchUS$ 450 million (2011)[4] to 1.5 billion (2011)[2][3][5][6]
Height56.1 m (184.2 ft)
Diameter8.7 m (28.5 ft)
Mass2,030 t (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
No. boosters2[8]
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 [9]
Specific impulse455 seconds (4.46 km/s)
Burn time480 s

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.


The Space Shuttle was a partially reusable[12] human spaceflight vehicle capable of reaching low Earth orbit, commissioned and operated by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) from 1981 to 2011. It resulted from shuttle design studies conducted by NASA and the U.S. Air Force in the 1960s and was first proposed for development as part of an ambitious second-generation Space Transportation System (STS) of space vehicles to follow the Apollo program in a September 1969 report of a Space Task Group headed by Vice President Spiro Agnew to President Richard Nixon. Nixon's post-Apollo NASA budgeting withdrew support of all system components except the Shuttle, to which NASA applied the STS name.[10]

The vehicle consisted of a spaceplane for orbit and re-entry, fueled from an expendable External Tank containing liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, with two reusable strap-on solid rocket boosters. The first of four orbital test flights occurred in 1981, leading to operational flights beginning in 1982, all launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The system was retired from service in 2011 after 135 missions,[13] with Atlantis making the final launch of the three-decade Shuttle program on July 8, 2011.[14] The program ended after Atlantis landed at the Kennedy Space Center on July 21, 2011. Major missions included launching numerous satellites and interplanetary probes,[15] conducting space science experiments, and servicing and construction of space stations. The first orbiter vehicle, named Enterprise, was used in the initial Approach and Landing Tests phase but installation of engines, heat shielding, and other equipment necessary for orbital flight was cancelled.[16] A total of five operational orbiters were built, and of these, two were destroyed in accidents.

It was used for orbital space missions by NASA, the U.S. Department of Defense, the European Space Agency, Japan, and Germany.[17][18] The United States funded Shuttle development and operations except for the Spacelab modules used on D1 and D2—sponsored by Germany.[17][19][20][21][22] SL-J was partially funded by Japan.[18]

STS-129 ready for launch
Shuttle approach and landing test crews, 1976
Early concept for a space shuttle refueling a space tug, 1970

At launch, it consisted of the "stack", including the dark orange external tank (ET) (for the first two launches the tank was painted white);[23][24] two white, slender solid rocket boosters (SRBs); and the Orbiter Vehicle, which contained the crew and payload. Some payloads were launched into higher orbits with either of two different upper stages developed for the STS (single-stage Payload Assist Module or two-stage Inertial Upper Stage). The Space Shuttle was stacked in the Vehicle Assembly Building, and the stack mounted on a mobile launch platform held down by four frangible nuts[25] on each SRB, which were detonated at launch.[26]

The Shuttle stack launched vertically like a conventional rocket. It lifted off under the power of its two SRBs and three main engines, which were fueled by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen from the ET. The Space Shuttle had a two-stage ascent. The SRBs provided additional thrust during liftoff and first-stage flight. About two minutes after liftoff, frangible nuts were fired, releasing the SRBs, which then parachuted into the ocean, to be retrieved by NASA recovery ships for refurbishment and reuse. The orbiter and ET continued to ascend on an increasingly horizontal flight path under power from its main engines. Upon reaching 17,500 mph (7.8 km/s), necessary for low Earth orbit, the main engines were shut down. The ET, attached by two frangible nuts[27] was then jettisoned to burn up in the atmosphere.[28] After jettisoning the external tank, the orbital maneuvering system (OMS) engines were used to adjust the orbit.

The orbiter carried astronauts and payloads such as satellites or space station parts into low Earth orbit, the Earth's upper atmosphere or thermosphere.[29] Usually, five to seven crew members rode in the orbiter. Two crew members, the commander and pilot, were sufficient for a minimal flight, as in the first four "test" flights, STS-1 through STS-4. The typical payload capacity was about 50,045 pounds (22,700 kg) but could be increased depending on the choice of launch configuration. The orbiter carried its payload in a large cargo bay with doors that opened along the length of its top, a feature which made the Space Shuttle unique among spacecraft. This feature made possible the deployment of large satellites such as the Hubble Space Telescope and also the capture and return of large payloads back to Earth.

When the orbiter's space mission was complete, it fired its OMS thrusters to drop out of orbit and re-enter the lower atmosphere.[29] During descent, the orbiter passed through different layers of the atmosphere and decelerated from hypersonic speed primarily by aerobraking. In the lower atmosphere and landing phase, it was more like a glider but with reaction control system (RCS) thrusters and fly-by-wire-controlled hydraulically actuated flight surfaces controlling its descent. It landed on a long runway as a conventional aircraft. The aerodynamic shape was a compromise between the demands of radically different speeds and air pressures during re-entry, hypersonic flight, and subsonic atmospheric flight. As a result, the orbiter had a relatively high sink rate at low altitudes, and it transitioned during re-entry from using RCS thrusters at very high altitudes to flight surfaces in the lower atmosphere.

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Ruimtependeltuig
العربية: مكوك فضاء
asturianu: Tresbordador STS
azərbaycanca: Kosmik məkik
تۆرکجه: فضا شاتئلی
Bân-lâm-gú: Thài-khong-so
беларуская: Спэйс шатл
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Спэйс шатл
brezhoneg: Egorvulzun
čeština: Space Shuttle
dansk: Rumfærge
Deutsch: Space Shuttle
Esperanto: Kosmopramo
føroyskt: Rúmdarferja
贛語: 太空船
한국어: 우주왕복선
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hrvatski: Space Shuttle
Bahasa Indonesia: Pesawat ulang-alik
íslenska: Geimskutla
italiano: Space Shuttle
Кыргызча: Спейс Шатл
latviešu: Space Shuttle
Lëtzebuergesch: Space Shuttle
lietuvių: Space Shuttle
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македонски: Спејс шатл
Mirandés: Baibén spacial
မြန်မာဘာသာ: အာကာသလွန်းပျံ
Nordfriisk: Space Shuttle
norsk: Romferge
norsk nynorsk: Romferje
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Fazoviy moki
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਪੁਲਾੜ ਵਾਹਨ
پنجابی: خلائی شٹل
Patois: Spies Shokl
Plattdüütsch: Space Shuttle
português: Ônibus espacial
русский: Спейс шаттл
Seeltersk: Space Shuttle
sicilianu: Space Shuttle
Simple English: Space Shuttle
slovenčina: Space Shuttle
српски / srpski: Спејс-шатл
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Space Shuttle
svenska: Space Shuttle
Türkçe: Uzay mekiği
українська: Спейс Шаттл
vèneto: Space Shuttle
Tiếng Việt: Tàu con thoi
吴语: 航天飞机
ייִדיש: קאסמאס שאטל
粵語: 穿梭機
中文: 航天飞机