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(click picture). Produced by Loren Fletcher. The space shuttle consists of three main components The E xternal T ank (E.T. for short) which carries liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for the orbiter to reach orbit

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(click picture)

Produced by Loren Fletcher


The space shuttle consists of three main components

  • The External Tank (E.T. for short) which carries liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for the orbiter to reach orbit
  • The Solid Rocket Boosters (or srb’s) provide additional thrust to reach orbit and are reusable
  • The Orbiter Vehicle (OV-1,2,3,4) carries the astronauts into orbit so they can carry out their mission and then fly back to Kennedy Space Center and land so that they can be used again.

The Solid Rocket Boosters

(click picture)

SRB separation from the external tank 75 seconds after liftoff


SRB Recovery

Seventy- five seconds after SRB separation, SRB apogee occurs at an altitude of approximately 220,000 feet, or 41 statute miles.

SRB impact occurs in the ocean approximately 141 statute miles downrange.

The SRB’s are recovered by special outfitted ships like the one pictured at the left (The Liberty Star)

They are then towed back to Cape Canaveral and reloaded to be ready for another mission

The SRB during recovery

(click picture)

The Liberty Star SRB recovery ship


The External Tank

The External Tank supplies the liquid hydrogen (LH2) fuel and liquid oxygen (LO2) oxidizer to the orbiter.

The External Tank is 154.2 feet long and has a diameter of 27.5 feet. It is made of a welded aluminum alloy cylinder

The E.T. can hold 383,000 gals of LH2 and 143,000 gallons of LO2. Together, they weigh a little more than 790 tons.

When the main engines shut down the External Tank is jettisoned, and falls back to earth, burns up and is not recovered.


A tug boat tows a newly arrived external tank in the Banana River to its offloading site. External tanks are built by the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and transported by barge to Cape Canaveral


The Orbiter Vehicle consists of the following components:

  • The Space Shuttle Main Engines
  • The Orbital Manuvering Systems engines.
  • The flight deck, payload bay and the Canada Arm (remote manipulator system)

Space Shuttle Main Engine

SSME Specifications:

Weight: 3, 150Kg Length: 4.2 meters Diameter: 2.25 meters Engine Thrust: 488, 000 pounds

The Space Shutle Main Engine was developed in the 1970s by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, USA.


Orbital Maneuvering Systems engines are used for:

  • Orbit insertion and on orbit maneuvering
  • Abort to orbit
  • Abort to once around (achieve orbit for one orbit then come back home)
  • De-orbit (to break out of orbit to come back home)

The payload bay is 60 feet long and 15 feet in diameter. It can accommodate most spacecraft and scientific experiments as well as construction materials for the International Space Station.


The RMS (Remote ManipulatorSystem) or Canada Arm

The RMS or Canada Arm is a remote arm that is used to move payloads, grab satellites or move astronauts to other places in space to work on pieces of hardware or in constructing the ISS


The De-Orbit Burn or How we get back home

The de-orbit burn is done to slow the orbiter down from a speed of 17,560 miles per hour (orbital velocity), so that it can drop out of orbit and start a descent to the shuttle landing facility (SLF)at Kennedy Space Center and land.

(click picture)

Typical de-orbit and re-entry


All images, information and video provided from the John F. Kennedy Space Center Multimedia Gallery and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Animation provided by Analytical Graphics Inc.