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Fiction Writer Looking for More Astronomy Help

  1. Nov 16, 2007 #1
    Hey Physics Gang,

    I'm onto my next writing phase and would appreciate any help you can give me on this round of questions. Here we go (Many of these questions will relate to Space Shuttle launches):

    As is, the Space Shuttle essentially hitches a ride on a rocket, which handles the launch and gets the shuttle up in the air quite a bit.

    * At what speed--mph or equivalent--does that rocket travel with the shuttle on its back?

    * From the initial second of launch, for how long--in seconds or minutes--does the rocket actually thrust until it cuts off?

    * At what altitude does this happen? Or, at what altitude does the Space Shuttle then fly under it's own power?

    * Once the space shuttle is flying under it's own power, what is it's maximum speed?

    For the purposes of this conversation, let's say the Space Shuttle can fly as deep into space as desired.

    * From the launch sequence out into what would be defined as "outer space," what are the layers of the atmosphere that the Shuttle would pass through, and what is the altitude--distance from the Earth's surface--as it hits each of those markers?

    * As the Shuttle ascends, are there any significant changes in pressure/air temperature, etc. that exert force on the outer shielding of the shuttle? My goal here is to better understand the kind of battering the Shuttle goes through as it breaks free of the atmosphere.

    That's all she wrote for this round. Thanks in advance for all your help, and I'm sure I'll be back for more soon.

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 16, 2007 #2


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    The shuttle's main engines also run at launch although the boosters provide about 90% of the thrust at sea level.
    The boosters only run for the first 2min and are dumped. The Main engines run for 9mins before the external tank is empty and dumped.
    The shuttle enters orbit with no fuel for it's main engines, all the fuel is in the external tank. It only has a small amount of fuel for manourvering jets.

    Good references are:
    Aerospace lecture on shuttle - orbit

    Nasa shuttle reference manual:

    ps The shuttle isn't really cosmology - you might get more traffic in the astronomy forum. Of course the shuttle isn't astronomy either - but more people hang around there.
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2007
  4. Nov 16, 2007 #3


    These have some good diagrams showing the layers of the atmosphere. Space is traditionally marked by the 100 km line.

    The shuttle main engines do not run at full power during the mid-phase of the ascent. This is exactly because the shuttle cannot go too fast in the upper reaches of the atmosphere. During the imfamous Challenger flight, the last thing that the ground controller says to the crew is "Go for throttle up", which is an ascent milestone where the main engines can be returned to their full 105% power level.

    If you want to write about the shuttle, here is your bible ;)


    [edit] Just noticed that mgb already posted that one. Well, it bears repeating ;)
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