The Physics
An encyclopedia of scientific essays

Altitude of a Space Shuttle

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Bibliographic Entry Result
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Messer, Thomas. How To Describe The Shuttle's Orbit. EarthKAM. University of California at San Diego, 1998. "During EarthKAM flights the Shuttle flies at an altitude between 200 and 240 miles." 320–390 km
Space Travel. Compton's Encyclopedia Online. The Learning Company, 1999. "United States launch vehicles range from the four-stage, solid-propellant Scout, which is capable of placing a 425-pound payload in an Earth orbit 300 nautical miles high, to the manned, reusable fleet of space shuttles, which can place 65,000 pounds into orbit." 560 km
Loman, D. Paul. The Space Shuttle Photographic Program; Kosmos. Remote Sensing Tutorial. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, 1999. "From a typical altitude of 300 km (186 mi), a frame covers ground dimensions of about 225 x 450 km (140 x 280 mi)." 300 km
Dymoulin, Jim. STS-1. Space Shuttle Launches. NASA Kennedy Space Center, 1981. "Orbit: Altitude: 166 nm Inclination: 40.3 degrees Orbits: 37 Duration: 2 days, 6 hours, 20 min, 53 seconds Distance: 1,074,567 miles" 308 km
Olsen, Carrie, Orbital Velocity and Period Calculator, 1995 "Using a typical Shuttle flight altitude of 300 km, calculate the Orbiter's velocity and period below." 300 km

Space is the final frontier in which we as pioneers boldly go where no man has gone before. For many decades, engineers have been trying to develop technology that can help man learn more about space and beyond the universe. Although borders of space have already been crossed space still holds mysteries and many surprises. The first steps toward exploring and traveling in space were taken with kites, balloons, and airplanes. With these devices, however, man was still confined to the Earth's atmosphere, because they all depend upon air for support and the airplane requires oxygen from the air to burn its fuel. It was only until during the time of the Cold War when there was a competitive race for space between the United States and the former USSR Both of these two countries were racing against the clock in research to be the first to reach space. The USSR was the first with its Sputnik satellite to be in space. This marked the new space era. Later on the US finally sent up one of its own satellites into space.

It was the creation of rockets and spacecraft that finally extended man's reach beyond the atmosphere. For flights above the Earth's atmosphere a device is needed that carries both its fuel and its oxidizer and that does not depend on the atmosphere for support. This device is the rocket which operates using Newton's Third Law of Motion (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction). A rocket is driven forward by the pressure of expanding gases against the walls of the combustion, or thrust, chamber.

With such technology, there have been many shuttle missions throughout the late Twentieth Century into space. Shuttles carry booster rockets atop one another. As the booster rockets exhaust their propellants and as the shuttle climbs higher and higher in altitude, these rockets are released. This increases efficiency because the mass that must be accelerated is reduced. Space shuttles are designed to reduce the cost and increase the effectiveness of using space for educational, research, defense, and commercial needs. Most basic missions have certain objectives. For example, the mission objective of the STS-1 (1981) was to demonstrate safe launch into orbit and safe return of the orbiter and crew. It also had to verify the combined performance of the entire shuttle vehicle–orbiter, solid rocket boosters and external tank. Basically, this mission was to test equipment in space.

Shuttles can climb high altitudes with new technology that engineers have developed. As of now, typical shuttle flights range at around altitudes above 300 km.

Andres Mok -- 2000