How are space shuttles propelled into space?

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In summary, the space shuttle is propelled into space by five main engines, two solid rocket fuel boosters, and friction.
  • #1
Hello everyone I'm a physics beginner and just out of interest, I would really appreciate if someone could explain to me how a space shuttle is proplled into forces are involved,how their sizes differ relative to each other and how energy generated to achieve this process.
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  • #2
There are several rocket engines attached to the shuttle itself plus two boosters attached to external fuel tank to help it along while the tank is still heavy with fuel. The boosters and later the external tank separate from shuttle before it reaches orbit.

Main engines run on liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The combustion results in a jet of water vapor escaping the nozzles at roughly 3km/s. The reaction force is what pushes the shuttle. Boosters use solid fuel. I don't know the composition, but the principle is very similar.

I don't recall exact thrusts of the engines and boosters, but shuttle lifts off pulling roughly 2G, which means that the force from engines + boosters is roughly 2 times the total fueled weight of the shuttle with the external tank and the boosters.

That's a quick summary off the top of my head. You could get a fairly detailed description from Wikipedia article on Space Shuttle.
  • #3
Hi Lynda92,

Welcome to PF!

Your questions is actually a rather complicated one to answer fully. The space shuttle was launched through several phases.

So the space shuttle has three on-board engines. On-board meaning that they are attached to the shuttle and are always there. The fuel for these three main engines is a liquid rocket fuel.

In addition to the three on-board engines there are two solid rocket fuel boosters which are used in the initial stages of take-off. The two solid rocket fuel boosters are named that way because, well, they use a fuel which is a mixture of chemicals in a solid state. Essentially they use aluminum and react it with oxygen and a variant of ammonia as the fuel.

On lift-off all five of these engines are turned on giving the shuttle a thrust of several million pounds. (Like 1 million lbs from the main engines, and another 6 million lbs of thrust from the boosters). This is enough power to life the shuttle and start accelerating the whole thing into space.

Now after a certain point the boosters will run out of fuel. When this happens the boosters are released from the shuttle and dropped into the ocean. This is done for a few reasons. NASA can recover the boosters and re-use them this way. Also, by dropping the boosters the shuttle is significantly lighter meaning that it is easier to accelerate.

Once the boosters have been dropped the shuttle starts to accelerate some more at which point the shuttle is in the outer atmosphere. The shuttle is accelerated in the outer atmosphere because of friction. Flying the shuttle in the atmosphere causes friction which opposes the shuttle movement and also significantly heats it up. (The reason the shuttle turns red on reentry is because of all the heat with re-entering the atmosphere).
  • #4
Thank-You K^2 and Feldoh for your helpful explanations,I will definitely read up on the topic.
  • #5

Space shuttles are propelled into space by a combination of powerful engines and gravity. The main source of propulsion for a space shuttle is its rocket engines, which burn a mixture of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to produce thrust. This thrust pushes the space shuttle off the launch pad and into the Earth's atmosphere.

As the space shuttle travels through the atmosphere, it also takes advantage of the Earth's gravity. By following a carefully calculated trajectory, the space shuttle can use the pull of gravity to gain speed and altitude. This is known as a gravity assist maneuver and helps the shuttle conserve fuel and energy.

Once the space shuttle reaches a certain altitude, it will separate from its rocket boosters and continue its journey using its own engines. These engines are smaller and less powerful than the initial rocket engines, but they are designed to be more efficient for the remainder of the journey.

The size and power of the engines used by a space shuttle vary depending on the specific mission and payload. For example, the Space Shuttle Discovery had three main engines that produced a combined thrust of over 1.5 million pounds, while smaller spacecraft may only have one or two smaller engines.

In order to generate the energy needed for propulsion, space shuttles use a combination of chemical reactions and electrical power. The liquid hydrogen and oxygen used in the rocket engines undergo a controlled combustion process, which releases a significant amount of energy. The electrical power needed to operate the shuttle's systems and instruments is generated by solar panels or fuel cells.

Overall, the propulsion of a space shuttle is a complex process that requires precise calculations, powerful engines, and careful use of gravity. It is a remarkable feat of engineering and science that allows us to explore and travel through space.

1. How do space shuttles achieve liftoff?

Space shuttles achieve liftoff through the use of powerful rocket engines. These engines use a combination of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to create a controlled explosion, producing thrust that propels the shuttle off the launchpad and into space.

2. How do the rocket engines work?

The rocket engines on a space shuttle work by mixing liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen in a combustion chamber. When these two substances combine and ignite, they create a controlled explosion that produces hot gases. These gases are then expelled through a nozzle, creating thrust that propels the shuttle forward.

3. How does the space shuttle continue to gain altitude and speed?

Once the space shuttle has achieved liftoff, it continues to gain altitude and speed through the force of the rocket engines. As the engines continue to burn and produce thrust, they push the shuttle higher and faster into space. Once the shuttle reaches its desired orbit, the engines are shut off and the shuttle coasts through space.

4. How do the shuttle's rocket boosters contribute to liftoff?

The space shuttle's rocket boosters play a crucial role in achieving liftoff. These large, solid rocket boosters are attached to the sides of the main fuel tank and provide additional thrust during liftoff. They ignite simultaneously with the main engines and help to propel the shuttle off the launchpad and into space.

5. How does the space shuttle maneuver once it is in space?

Once the space shuttle is in orbit, it uses small thrusters to maneuver and change its trajectory. These thrusters, known as reaction control system (RCS) thrusters, use small bursts of gas to control the shuttle's movements. The shuttle also has larger engines, known as orbital maneuvering system (OMS) engines, which can be used to adjust the shuttle's orbit or perform major maneuvers.

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