How does the space shuttle land?

takeoff rockets Yes space shuttles It has always been seen as an achievement of technological and engineering progress in our society, but perhaps less attention is paid to the landing process, which in some ways can be more complicated and requires a level surprising precision.

The steps to land a Spaceship they literally start on the other side of the planet from the track. Given the order, astronauts must:

  1. Close the loading doors.
  2. Most of the time the space shuttle is « upside down » and nose first in relation to planet Earth, so the reaction control system (RCS) to turn around and put tail first.
  3. Activate it Orbital maneuvering system slow down the shuttle and begin the descent towards the upper layer of the atmosphere; This is a process that takes about 25 minutes.
  4. At this point, the RCS is reactivated so that the bottom of the shuttle faces Earth (face up) and nose first.
  5. After burn all the remaining fuel for safety, since the temperatures reached by the device upon entry into the atmosphere exceed 1,650 degrees Celsius.

At this point the Spaceship is located approximately 400,000 feet high (120 kilometers) and moves to Mach 25that's to say, 8.2 kilometers per second Or 30,000 kilometers per hour. Through maneuvers using the RCS, a 40 degree bank (nose up) is maintained to continue to reduce speed and try to reduce the heat produced due to friction caused by the high speed of the vessel and the increase in air density. air.

THE Spaceshipas it descends and encounters more air Stop behaving like a spaceship and start working like a plane.

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If a straight line course was maintained, with a 40 degree bank (nose up), it is possible that the ship would stop descending (at least for a few minutes) or even increase your height Therefore, four very pronounced S-shaped maneuvers are performed, maintaining these 40 degrees of inclination, so that the speed is dissipated to the sides. This is the most stressful time for the ship and its occupants, with extremely high G-forces and temperatures,

Endeavor (STS-130) upon re-entry into the atmosphere, performing an S maneuver, seen from the International Space Station (by: Soichi Noguchi)

At the end of the four S maneuvers, the ship must be approximately 225 kilometers of the trackAt a height of 18,000 feet (5.4 kilometers). The distance and height at this point are very important because the Spaceship more than a plane it is a glider, there is neither engine nor fuel which propels it, only the speed acquired by the descent. Flying very low (even if the distance is sufficient) would imply that the ship No hit the track. Flying at the correct height but at a greater distance than calculated would cause the same problem.

be certain 40 kilometers from the runway, circular maneuvers (approximately 5,500 meters in diameter) are carried out to align the shuttle and lower the height. On final approach, the machine has a descent angle of -20 degrees (seven times that of a commercial airliner).

FOR 600 meters from the runway, increase the angle of inclination of the ship (nose up) to reduce the descent speed – in the absence of turbines, this is the only way to control it – lower the landing gear, land and stop approximately three-quarters of the way down the track (using a parachute). Over the next 20 minutes, the crew initiates procedures to shut down the shuttle's systems and waits for the spacecraft to cool and the harmful gases created by the extreme heat to dissipate.

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Because it is an extremely complex process, almost all of the landing of the Spaceship it's done on computer-assisted autopilot. Humans intervene 40 kilometers from the runway for indirect maneuvers and the final approach. However, during the first four shuttle missions (STS-1, STS-2, STS-3 and STS-4), the process it was made entirely by hand (The pilot took control after the first S maneuver).

As explained Marie Shefer of the JARin a message posted to the sci.space.shuttle newsgroup on February 3, 2000, the astronaut Jean Young he was the first to do so. After STS-4, the shuttle's control systems were reprogrammed to automate the process. Besides the Buran (the Russian equivalent of the space shuttle) was able to take off, orbit the Earth and land 100% automatically (without a single human on board), impressive.

It is surprising, admirable and an example of the impressive work that is being done in the JARthat after 129 missionsthere is only one breakdown (on landing) that we must regret, when the Colombia it disintegrated upon re-entry into the atmosphere.

Space Shuttle re-entry simulation

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