by the combination of the orbiter’s three mainengines and the twin SRBs.A pair of SRBs, fully loaded with propellant,weigh about 1.4 million pounds (635,040kilograms) apiece. They stand 149.2 feet (45.5meters) tall, and have a diameter of 12 feet (3.6meters). The boosters in use today are thelargest solid propellant motors ever developedfor space flight and the first to be used on amanned space vehicle. These boosters will propelthe orbiter to a speed of 3,512 miles per hour(5,652 kilometers per hour).At approximately two minutes after the SpaceShuttle lifts off from the launch pad, the twinSRBs have expended their fuel. The boostersseparate from the orbiter and its external tank atan altitude of approximately 30.3 statute miles(26.3 nautical miles/48.7 kilometers) above theEarth’s surface. After separation, momentumwill propel the SRBs for another 70 seconds toan altitude of 44.5 statute miles (38.6 nauticalmiles/71.6 kilometers) before they begin theirlong tumble back to Earth.
SRB Descent and Splashdown
The nose cap of each booster is jettisoned atan altitude of 2.9 statute miles (2.5 nautical miles/ 4.6 kilometers) and deploys the pilot parachute.The pilot parachute immediately deploys thedrogue parachute which is attached to the top ofthe frustum, the cone-shaped structure at theforward end of the booster.At an altitude of 1.3 statute miles (1.1 nauticalmiles/2.1 kilometers), the frustums separate fromthe boosters. This releases three main parachuteshoused within the frustums. It is these chutesthat will quickly slow the booster’s speed from230 miles per hour (370.1 kilometers an hour) toa speed of 51 miles per hour (82.1 kilometers perhour). At approximately seven minutes afterliftoff, the boosters will impact the Atlantic Ocean.The splashdown area is a box of about 6.9 by10.4 statute miles (six by nine nautical miles/ 11.1 by 16.7 kilometers) located about 140 nauticalmiles (160 statute miles/257.6 kilometers)downrange from the launch pad.The retrieval ships are on station at the timeof splashdown, at about 9.2-11.5 statute miles(8-10 nautical miles/14.8-18.5 kilometers) fromthe impact area. As soon as the boosters enterTo make Space Shuttle launches aseconomical as possible, the reuse of flight hardwareis crucial. Unlike rocket boosters previously usedin the space program, the Space Shuttle’s solidrocket booster (SRB) casings and associatedflight hardware are recovered at sea. The expendedboosters are disassembled, refurbished andreloaded with solid propellant for reuse.
The Ships and Crew
The two retrieval ships which perform theSRB recovery, the
, are unique vessels specifically designedand constructed for this task.
Recovery Vessel (R/V) Freedom Star
R/V Liberty Star
areowned by NASA. They were built at AtlanticMarine Shipyard, Fort George Island, nearJacksonville, Fla., in 1980 and 1981. The shipsare 176 feet (53.6 meters) in length, 37 feet (11.2meters) in width, and draw about 12 feet (3.6meters) of water. Each ship displaces 1,052 tons(957 metric tons).Each ship is propelled by two main enginesproviding a total of 2,900 horsepower. The mainengines turn two seven-foot (2.1-meter) propellerswith controllable pitch, which provides greaterresponse time and maneuverability. The shipsalso are equipped with two thrusters. The sternthruster is a water jet system that allows the shipto move in any direction without the use ofpropellers. This system was installed to protectthe endangered manatee population that inhabitsregions of the Banana River where the ships arebased. The system also allows divers to worknear the ship during operations at a greatlyreduced risk.Improvements have been made to the shipssince they first began service. In addition tocontrollable pitch propellers, both vessels arenow outfitted with highly precise Global PositioningSystem (GPS) navigation equipment.The ship’s complement includes a crew often; a nine-person SRB retrieval team, a retrievalsupervisor, a NASA representative, and observers.The maximum complement is 24 persons.
The Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters
The typical Shuttle flight trajectory takes thevehicle away from the continental United Statesand over the Atlantic Ocean. Power is provided