The American space shuttle program has had a great run overall but every good thing has its shortcomings. Out of 5 space crafts in the program, 2 were destroyed, killing everyone on board. Ultimately the decision was taken to ground all the space shuttles but they were still in service until 2011, because they were the cargo flights used to build the ISS (International Space Station). And after this international collaboration was completed it was retired after 135 total flights.
It consisted of 5 space shuttles namely:-
3. Colombia (was destroyed in the year 1986)
4. Challenger (was destroyed in the year 2003)
How a Spacecraft can Travel in Space but a Plane Can’t?
A space shuttle works on the principle of Newton’s third law of motion which is universal whereas planes work on the simple logic of pushing air to move ahead. The propulsion system of rockets doesn’t require a medium to travel. The planes produce lift continuously to stay in the air, which of course is not possible in the vacuum of space.
Another reason is that planes need air for air-fuel mixture to ignite and produce thrust which they obviously can’t get in space. On the other hand, spacecraft carries a different kind of fuel along with their igniter mixtures to produce thrust even in space. The mixture consists of oxygen and gases in a liquid state.
Watch a live video from the International Space Station:
HOW TO LAUNCH A SPACE SHUTTLE
The general thumb rule of going into space is that you can’t go there in a straight line you have to follow the curvature of the earth along with obeying the laws of physics. This can clearly be seen when the space shuttle starts its arrival into space from the launchpad, you can see it tilting to its right side after just 20 seconds and then disappearing in the vast sky.
Theoretically, if you fire a bullet at exactly the geographical north pole towards the east, the bullet will travel some distance in a straight line (obviously along the circumference of the Earth) before losing its momentum and dying down in the form of a projectile at the end. Similarly, if you fire it a little faster it will follow the curvature of the Earth before going down. Hypothetically, if you keep on increasing the speed of the bullet it will not fall until it has enough momentum to follow the curvature of the earth and if that straight line reaches the south pole or half distance of the circumference, you never fall. And that theoretical speed is 29.78Km/s.
So, technically you are falling but amazingly you are not. That’s the beauty of ROCKET SCIENCE.
Why it is Efficient to Launch a Rocket in Different Stages?
Rockets use a variety of propulsion system separated into different stages for a number of good reasons.
The very first one is that it is a good idea to jettison a fuel tank if it has been used completely. Carrying an empty payload is not a good idea by any means. On the same note, using the same engine for the later part of the journey in space is highly inefficient. So, a rocket is made up of many small detachable segments each with its own engines and fuel.
Throwing away cargo as soon as they are not needed results in decreasing the odds of failure and ultimately affecting the whole mission, towards its success.
COMPONENTS OF SPACE SHUTTLE
1. Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs)
SRBs were the most powerful rocket propulsion system ever used in flight. It was so powerful in fact, that it accounted for two-thirds of the power need by the shuttle. It was primarily attached to the shuttle to give an “extra” boost as the 3 primary engines were not powerful enough to push the vehicle on their own. At the launch pad, they accounted for more than half the mass of the vehicle, to be precise each booster was roughly 600 metric tonnes. Dimensionally it was 3.7 meters wide along its diameter.
These were kind of an afterthought as the engines alone couldn’t produce half the thrust needed for the flight.
Believe it or not, SRBs burn solid ammonium along with aluminum power as their fuel and they didn’t have any moving part whatsoever.
The SRBs when once started couldn’t stop till they run out of fuel, it was based on a chain reaction that was never-ending. In an emergency situation, it would have to be destroyed on purpose to stop it. They are attached to the shuttle from T-0 second to 2:12 seconds into the flight, providing massive amounts of thrust.
2. Orange Fuel Tank
The large cylindrical tank attached behind the actual space shuttle holds the fuel for the 3 primary engines of the shuttle. It contains liquid hydrogen fuel and liquid oxygen oxidizer at supercold temperatures. Unlike SRBs, they were not reused as they broke up before impact in the Indian Ocean or the Pacific Ocean. It held roughly 535,000 gallons of overall fuel.
The external tank gets its orange color from the foam insulation sprayed on the tank’s aluminum structure. THe insulation helps the tank act as a thermos bottle to keep the super cold propellants from evaporating quickly.
Generally, the external tank was mounted a tad bit high above the shuttle to avoid any contact with the flames from the SRBs. They get separated from the shuttle at roughly 8 min after T-0 second, after providing all the thrust to the shuttle. During the time it separates from the shuttle, the altitude is high enough to burn down the tank completely during its fall making the external tank unusable.
These were some of the factors which raised the operating cost of the program and resulted in its overbudgeting.
3. The Space Shuttle
Rather than me explaining this segment, watching the following video will give you more information than I could ever, so go with the video and save yourself from the boring explanation: