Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles
Appendix 3: Space Vehicles
Copyright © 2006 Jos Heyman
 (HTML formatting by Andreas Parsch) 

Space Transportation System (STS)

In 1969 various options for the post-Apollo course of the U.S. space effort were studied and, concluding that a new generation of space systems, which would stress cost efficiency and re-usability, was technically possible, four building blocks to this effort were proposed:

Of these building blocks, only the Space Shuttle materialized. In the early 1970's a Space Tug was envisaged which, however, was not proceeded with. It was to be crewed and was expected to be 9.10 m long and 4.57 m in diameter.

Development of the Space Shuttle commenced in 1969 and the vehicle consists basically of the orbiter vehicle, two solid fuelled booster rockets and an external tank in which all the fuel is stored. The fuel is stored in the external tank, which is jettisoned after launch. The orbiter has a length of 37.19 m and a span of 23.77 m. The payload bay has a length of 18 m and a width of 5 m and allows, typically, three satellites to be stored. Payload capability is 24,000 kg, later increased to 29,500 kg.

Photo: NASA
OV-102 Columbia (STS-58)

Stage Length Engine Fuel Thrust
045.47 m2 Thiokolsolid23,572,400 N
137.19 m3 RocketdyneLOX/LH2,100,000 N

Specifications for Space Shuttle

Initially it was planned to fit 4 Pratt & Whitney F401-PW-400 engines for sub-orbital and transfer flight. This was abandoned in February 1973.

The program initially covered the construction of three test vehicles - MPTA-098, STA-099 and OV-101 - and three space rated orbiters: Columbia (OV-102), Discovery (OV-103) and Atlantis (OV-104). OV-101 became the Space Shuttle Enterprise, which was used in sub-orbital tests and which did not have an orbiting capability but was used in the development of the numerous techniques required for the Space Shuttle, in particular the landing techniques. It had been the intention to convert OV-101 as a space rated orbiter but instead it was found to be more convenient to convert STA-099, which became orbiter Challenger (OV-099) in January 1979. Following the loss of the Challenger a replacement orbiter, known as Endeavour (OV-105), was built.

Photo: NASA
OV-103 Discovery (STS-63)

The Enterprise test programme consisted of four separate phases:

  1. Phase 1, which consisted of a series of captive test flights of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) and the Enterprise, with the Enterprise being unmanned
  2. Phase 2, which consisted of a series of captive test flights as per phase 1, but with a crew on board of the Enterprise
  3. Phase 3, during which the Enterprise was released from the SCA and performed a glide landing
  4. Phase 4, which consisted of a series of test ferry flights of the SCA and the Enterprise

MPTA-098 was used for main propulsion tests and was basically an aft fuselage + a truss arrangement to simulate the mid fuselage. In the development process the Pathfinder was also built. The Pathfinder was a non-flying components mock-up which was built in 1977 and used for hoisting tests as well as certain road tests. In 1979 it went to the Marshall Spaceflight Centre and is now displayed in the United States Space and Rocket Centre in Huntsville, Alabama.

In the 1990s the remaining orbiters were converted to allow longer durations flights as well as integration with the proposed International Space Station.

OMDP Columbia Discovery Atlantis Endeavour
1After STS-65After STS-42After STS-46After STS-77
2After STS-93After STS-70After STS-86 
3n/aAfter STS-105  

STS modifications (Orbiter Maintenance Down Period)

The first flight of the orbiter Columbia was on 12 April 1981 (STS-1). On 6 April 1983 (STS-41C) the Challenger was launched for the first time, whilst the orbiter Discovery made its first flight on 30 August 1984 (STS-41D). Atlantis flew on 3 October 1985 (STS-51J). The Challenger was destroyed on the launch of STS-51L, on 28 January 1986 and was replaced by the orbiter Endeavour which flew for the first time on 7 May 1992 (STS-49). The orboter Columbia was destroyed during the descent of the STS-107 mission on 1 February 2003.

Photo: NASA
OV-104 Atlantis (STS-86)

Following the destruction of the Columbia the usage of the Space Shuttle fleet was reviewed and current plans call for a retirement of the fleet following the completion of the International Space Station. This is expected to be in 2010.

Further developments of the Space Shuttle have been studied over the years, in particular a unmanned cargo version using the main components of the Shuttle. This Shuttle C would have had 95% commonality with the Space Shuttle itself but with only two main engines. The payload capability would be up to 70,000 kg but the payload module would not be recoverable. The project was not proceeded with. Other developments projects included SDV, which would have been a combination of the Shuttle's boosters and main engines, SDV-1 using four boosters and four main engines and SDV-2 using six boosters and seven main engines. A combination of two boosters and four or eight main engines was referred to as Shuttle Z.

Back to Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles, Appendix 3

Last Updated: 15 April 2006