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he Vision íor Space Lxploration is
being made a realitv bv the Space
Shuttle Program at Kennedv Space
(enter. 1he work oí preparing a Space
Shuttle íor ílight takes place primarilv at the
Launch (omplex 39 Area.
1he process actuallv begins at the end
oí each ílight. with a landing at the (enter
or. aíter landing at an alternate site. the
return oí the orbiter atop a shuttle carrier
Kennedv s Shuttle Landing lacilitv is the
primarv landing site.
1here are now three orbiters in the
Shuttle íleet: Disco·erv. Atlantis and Lndea·-
our. (hallenger was destroved in an accident
in Januarv 1986. (olumbia was lost during
approach to landing in lebruarv 2003.
Lach orbiter is processed independentlv
using the same íacilities. Inside is a description
oí an orbiter processing ílow: in this case.
From Landing To Launch
National Aeronautics andSpace Administration
Shuttle Landing Facility
At the end oí its mission. the Space Shuttle Disco·-
erv lands at the Shuttle Landing lacilitv SLl, onone oí
two runwav headings - Runwav 15 extends írom the
northwest to the southeast. and Runwav 33 extends
írom the southeast to the northwest - based on wind
Aíter touchdown and wheelstop. the orbiter
con·ov is deploved to the runwav. 1he con·ov consists
oí about 25 speciallv designed ·ehicles or units and a
team oí about 150 trained personnel. some oí whom
assist the crew in disembarking írom the orbiter. 1he
others quicklv begin the processes necessarv to saíe`
the orbiter and prepare it íor towing to the Orbiter
Processing lacilitv OPl,. 1he team that reco·ers the
orbiter is primarilv composed oí KS( personnel.
whether the landing takes place at KS(. at Ldwards
AlB. (alií.. or elsewhere.
1he íirst staging position oí the con·ov aíter
Disco·erv lands is 1.250 íeet írom the orbiter. Saíetv
assessment teams dressed in protecti·e attire and
breathing apparatus use detectors to obtain ·apor le·el
readings around the orbiter. 1hev test íor possible
explosi·e or toxic gases such as hvdrogen. hvdrazine.
monomethvlhvdrazine. nitrogen tetroxide or ammonia.
Once the íorward and aít saíetv assessment teams
successíullv complete their toxic ·apor readings around
the orbiter. Purge and (oolant Umbilical Access
Vehicles are mo·ed into position behind the orbiterto
gain access to the umbilical areas. (hecks íor toxic or
hazardous gases are completed in the areas oí the aít
íuselage. Ií no hvdrogen gases are present. con·ov
operations continue. Ií hvdrogen gases are detected. the
crew is e·acuated immediatelv. con·ov personnel are
cleared írom the area and an emergencv power-down
oí the orbiter is conducted.
Aíter carrier plates íor the hvdrogen and oxvgen
umbilicals are installed. the ílow oí coolant and purge
air through the umbilical lines begins. Purge air pro·ides
cool and humidiíied air conditioning to the pavload bav
and other ca·ities to remo·e anv residual explosi·e or
toxic íumes that mav be present. 1he purge oí the
·ehicle normallv occurs within 45 to 60 minutes aíter an
orbiter comes to a íull stop. 1ransíer oí the air condi-
tioning íunction to ground ser·ices occurs at about the
same time. allowing onboard cooling to be shut down.
\hen it is determined that the area in and around
the orbiter is saíe. the crew oí Disco·erv prepares to
lea·e the orbiter. 1he (rew latch Access Vehicle mo·es
to the hatch side oí the orbiter and a white room` is
mated to the orbiter hatch. 1he hatch is opened and a
phvsician períorms a brieí preliminarv medical exami-
nation oí the crew members beíore thev lea·e the
·ehicle. generallv within an hour aíter landing. Astro-
nauts lea·e the orbiter more quicklv and more comíort-
ablv bv transíerring írom the white room directlv into
the (rew 1ransport Vehicle (1V,. a modiíied people
mo·er` similar to those used at airports.
In addition to con·ov operations on the runwav. a
KS( engineering test team monitors data írom Disco·-
erv írom a station in one oí the Launch (ontrol
(enter`s íiring rooms. Aíter the crew has leít Disco·erv
and the orbiter ground cooling is established. Johnson
Space (enter. which controls the ·ehicle during ílight.
hands o·er` responsibilitv oí the ·ehicle to Kennedv
Space (enter. 1he engineering test team is now able to
issue commands to Disco·erv. coníiguring speciíic
orbiter svstems íor the towing to one oí three bavs oí
the Orbiter Processing lacilitv.
1he ílight crew is replaced aboard Disco·erv bv
KS( support personnel who prepare the orbiter íor
ground tow operations. install switch guards and
remo·e data packages írom anv onboard experiments.
Aíter total saíetv downgrade. ·ehicle ground
personnel make numerous preparations íor the towing
operation. including the installation oí landing gear lock
pins. positioning oí the towing ·ehicle in íront oí the
orbiter and connection oí the tow bar. 1owing nor-
mallv begins within íour hours aíter landing. and is
completed within six hours unless time-sensiti·e experi-
ment remo·als are required on the runwav.
Orbiter Processing Facility
A tractor tow ·ehicle pulls Disco·erv along a two-
mile tow-wav írom the SLl to the Orbiter Processing
lacilitv OPl,. a structure similar in design to a sophisti-
cated aircraít hangar. where processing Disco·erv íor
Umbilicals are attached to purge the vehicle of any
possible residual explosive or toxic fumes.
another ílight begins. 1he OPl has three separate
buildings. or bavs. that are each about 19¯ íeet long.
150 íeet wide and 95 íeet high. Lach is equipped with
two 30-ton bridge cranes with a hook height oí
approximatelv 66 íeet. ligh bavs 1 and 2 are adjacent
to each other. ligh bav 3 was constructed north oí the
1urnaround processing procedures on Disco·erv
include ·arious post-ílight deser·icing and maintenance
íunctions. which are carried out in parallel with pavload
remo·al and the installation oí equipment needed íor
the next mission.
Beíore post-ílight deser·icing can continue bevond
initial saíing operations. certain ·ehicle svstems must be
mechanicallv secured and access platíorms installed.
lirst. the orbiter is raised oíí its landing gear and
le·eled. \orkstands are mo·ed into position and
preparations begin to gain access to ·arious orbiter
compartments. An elaborate svstem oí scaííolding and
work platíorms pro·ide access to orbiter elements.
Purge Disco·erv`s main engines to remo·e
moisture produced as a bv-product oí the combustion
oí liquid oxvgen and liquid hvdrogen.
Open pavload bav doors. and install access
pro·isions to support pavload operations. Render anv
hazardous pavloads saíe during these earlv OPl opera-
Drain íuel cell crvogenic tanks oí residual
reactants and render them inert using gaseous nitrogen
in the oxvgen svstem and gaseous helium in the hvdro-
Vent high-pressure gases írom the en·ironmen-
tal control and liíe support svstem.
Oíí-load non-storable consumables írom
Disco·erv and remo·e waste products.
Drain and remo·e íilters írom potable water
svstem. water sprav boilers. and the auxiliarv power
Remo·e engine heat shields and aít access
doors. Install main engine gimbal locks and engine
Install workstands in the orbiter`s rear compart-
ment. Remo·e three engines íor engine standalone
1ransíer engines to the Main Lngine Processing
lacilitv and ser·ice íor íuture ílights.
\hen required. the Orbital Maneu·ering Svstem
OMS,´Reaction (ontrol Svstem R(S, podsand
íorward R(S mav be remo·ed and taken to the
lvpergol Maintenance lacilitv in KS(`s industrial area
1roubleshooting oí problems that mav ha·e
occurred during launch. ílight or re-entrv also takes
place in the OPl. Orbiter components are remo·ed and
repaired or replaced as required. Retesting is oíten done
in parallel with other processing acti·ities.
Visual inspections are made oí the orbiter`s thermal
protection svstem 1PS,. selected structural elements.
landing gear. and other svstems to determine ií thev
sustained anv damage during the mission. Anv damage
to the 1PS must be repaired beíore the next mission.
1PS operations are conducted in parallel with most oí
the acti·ities in the OPl. 1here are about 25.000 tiles
and thermal blankets on the outside oí each orbiter and
about 6.000 thermal control blankets on the inside.
During OPl processing. anv required ·ehicle
modiíications. in addition to routine post-ílight
deser·icing´ser·icing and checkout. are períormed.
Planned modiíications are tvpicallv put into work as
soon as practical aíter the orbiter returns and are
generallv completed in parallel with prelaunch ser·icing
Modiíications to orbiters mav be períormed to
meet íuture mission requirements. resol·e an identiíied
deíiciencv. or enhance ·ehicle períormance. Orbiter
modiíications. ií thev are extensi·e. mav be períormed
with the ·ehicle powered down. Manv modiíications.
howe·er. can be completed in parallel with routine
Modiíication work is generallv completed in the
OPl while the orbiter is in a horizontal position. Some
modiíication work can be carried out in the Vehicle
Assemblv Building: howe·er. the OPl oííers the best
Discovery rolls into the Orbiter Processing Facility where it
will be processed for another flight.
access and support equipment íor conducting such
Lxcept during hazardous operations. routine
preílight ser·icing can begin while deser·icing acti·ities
are still under wav. Routine ser·icing includes
reconíiguring orbiter svstems íor ílight. períorming
routine maintenance. replacing parts and installing new
mission ílight kits and pavloads. (onsumable íluids and
gases are loaded aboard. and the Auxiliarv Power Unit
lube oil svstem is ser·iced.
1he íinal step in OPl orbiter processing is weighing
the orbiter and determining its center oí gra·itv. Vehicle
períormance is aííected bv both the orbiter`s weight
and its center oí gra·itv. and ílight programming
requires accurate measurements.
linallv. all ground support and access equipment is
remo·ed. and Disco·erv is readv to be mated to the
external tank and solid rocket boosters in the Vehicle
Assemblv Building. 1ime spent in the OPl is tvpicallv
less than 100 davs.
Vehicle Assembly Building
lrom the OPl. Disco·erv is rolled o·er to the
Vehicle Assemblv Building VAB,. Rollo·er generallv
occurs using the ¯6-wheel Orbiter 1ransíer Svstem.
One oí the world`s largest buildings bv ·olume. the
VAB co·ers eight acres. It is 525 íeet tall. ¯16 íeet long.
and 518 íeet wide. It is di·ided bv a transíer aisle
running north and south that connects and transects íour
high bavs. lacing east toward the launch pads are bavs 1
and 3. used íor the ·ertical assemblv oí Space Shuttle
·ehicles. On the west side oí the VAB are Bavs 2 and 4.
used íor ílight hardware and orbiter storage.
Disco·erv enters the VAB transíer aisle through the
large door at the north end oí íacilitv. \hile in the
transíer aisle. the orbiter is raised to a ·ertical position
·ia 250- and 1¯5-ton cranes. It is then liíted se·eral
hundred íeet abo·e the VAB íloor and slowlv lowered
beside the waiting external tank and twin solid rocket
boosters located in bav 1.
1he external tank and solid rocket boosters alreadv
ha·e been stacked atop the mobile launcher platíorm
MLP,. Now Disco·erv is lowered beside the external
tank and mated to the stack. Once Disco·erv is bolted
to the external tank. the erection slings and load beams
Lxtendable platíorms. modiíied to íit Space Shuttle
coníiguration. mo·e in around Disco·erv to pro·ide
access íor integration and íinal testing. Llectrical and
mechanical ·eriíication oí the mated interíaces is
períormed: a shuttle interíace test ·eriíies Disco·erv`s
interíaces and ·ehicle-to-ground interíaces are working.
Umbilical ordnance de·ices are installed but not
electricallv connected until Disco·erv is at the pad,.
Aíter six davs. checkout is complete. Ser·ice
platíorms are retracted. and the VAB doors are opened
to permit the tracked crawler-transporter ·ehicle to
mo·e under the MLP and the assembled Space Shuttle
·ehicle. 1he transporter liíts the MLP oíí its pedestals
and onto the crawler-transporter. and the rollout to the
launch pad begins. 1wo crawler-transporters are
a·ailable íor use at KS(.
\hen the Space Shuttle has completed stacking with
its Lxternal 1ank and Solid Rocket Boosters atop the
Mobile Launcher Platíorm and completed checkout in
the Vehicle Assemblv Building VAB,. it is readv íor
rollout to the Launch Pad.
1he journev to the launch pad ·ia the (rawler-
1ransporter (1, takes about six hours along the
speciallv built road called the crawlerwav. 1he (1`s
maximum speed unloaded is 2 mph: loaded. it is 1
1he crawlerwav is almost as broad as an eight-lane
turnpike. 1wo 40-íoot-wide lanes are separated bv a
50-íoot-wide median strip.
1he (1 mo·es on eight tracked tread belts. each
containing 5¯ tread belt shoes.` Lach shoe is ¯.5 íeet
long. 1.5 íeet wide and weighs approximatelv 2.200
pounds. More than 1.000 shoes 456 per (1 plus
spares, were originallv pro·ided bv Marion Power
Sho·el (o. when the (1s were initiallv built in 1965.
New shoes were made bv ML Global Manuíacturing
oí Duluth. Minn.. and installed in the íall oí 2004.
During the rollout. engineers and technicians on the
(1. assisted bv ground crews. operate and monitor
svstems while dri·ers steer the ·ehicle toward the pad.
1he (1s ha·e a le·eling svstem designed to keep
the top oí a Space Shuttle ·ehicle ·ertical within plus or
minus 10 minutes oí one degree oí arc ha·ing the
dimensions oí a basketball. 1his svstem also pro·ides
the le·eling operations required to negotiate the íi·e-
percent ramp leading to the launch pads and to keep the
load le·el when it is raised and lowered on pedestals at
the pad and in the VAB.
Aíter the MLP is hard down` on the launch pad
pedestals. the crawler is backed down the ramp and
returned to its parking area.
Final Processing at Pad
Both Launch Pads 39A and 39B ha·e permanent
structures to complete the processing oí a Space Shuttle
íor launch: the lixed Ser·ice Structure lSS, and the
Rotating Ser·ice Structure RSS,. lrom these. the íinal
pavload processing takes place. ií required. beíore
1he lSS pro·ides access to the Space Shuttle
orbiter and to the RSS. Located on the west side the
pad. it is a 40-íoot-squre. cross-section steel structure
that includes the hvdrogen ·ent umbilical and intertank
access arm. ·ehicle ser·ice lines small helium and
nitrogen lines and electrical cables,. gaseous oxvgen ·ent
arm. and orbiter access arm íor crew transíer to the
1he 130-íoot-high RSS pi·ots 120 degrees írom an
open position to encircle an orbiter íor changeout and
ser·icing oí the pavload at the pad. Orbiter access
platíorms at íi·e le·els pro·ide access to the pavload
bav with the pavload bav doors open. 1he RSS allows
the orbiter`s pavload bav doors to be open in the
en·ironmentallv controlled Pavload (hangeout Room.
An orbiter midbodv umbilical unit pro·ides access
and ser·ices to the midíuselage area. Liquid oxvgen
and liquid hvdrogen íor the ·ehicle`s íuel cells. and
gases. such as nitrogen and helium. are pro·ided
through the umbilical unit.
1he RSS also pro·ides access íor ser·icing the
OMS pods. lvpergolic íluids are loaded into the pods
through these ser·icing areas. Ouick disconnects are
used to pro·ide íluid interíaces between the ílight
hardware and the ground support equipment.
A wide range oí pavloads - some to be deploved
írom the Space Shuttle. others onlv to be carried into
space in the pavload bav and returned at the end oí the
mission - are deli·ered to KS( to undergo íinal
processing. checkout and installation aboard an orbiter.
Space Shuttle pavload processing is períormed in
parallel with ·ehicle processing to the íullv integrated
and tested pavloads are readv íor installation in the
orbiter at the appropriate time to support the launch
In order to obtain the shortest possible Space
Shuttle turnaround ílow. KS( períorms a simulated
orbiter-to-cargo interíace ·eriíication oí the entire
pavload beíore it is installed in the orbiter. Pavloads
mav be installed horizontallv in the OPl or ·erticallv at
the pad in the Pavload (hangeout Room.
Final Prelaunch Operations
Lxtra·ehicular mobilitv units astronauts` space suits,
and other ílight crew equipment are stowed at the pad.
Preparations are made to load the propellants íor the
onboard OMS´R(S pods and íorward R(S propellant
tanks and storage tanks.
1he hvpergolic storage area and distribution svstem
pro·ide the propellant íor the orbiter`s OMS´R(S
engines. which use monomethvlhvdrazine as a íuel and
nitrogen tetroxide as an oxidizer. Stored separatelv
because thev ignite on contact. thev are íed bv transíer
lines through the lSS to the RSS hvpergolic umbilical
svstem. 1he hvpergolic svstems also support the
the orbiter ·ia the slidewire basket svstem. 1he íinal
orbiter`s APU that supports the ·ehicle`s hvdraulic
Now begin íinal preparations íor the launch:
1he pavload is closed out íor ílight. with íinal
inspections and testing oí the pavload.
1he orbiter aít engine compartment is in-
spected and closed out íor ílight.
Llectrical connections are made on ordnance
de·ices installed to support SRB liítoíí. separation oí
solid rocket boosters írom the external tank and the
external tank írom the orbiter.
Se·eral weeks beíore launch. the mission crew
arri·es at KS( íor 1erminal (ountdown Demonstra-
tion 1est acti·ities. 1hev practice emergencv exit írom
acti·itv is a simulated launch countdown with the crew
in íull suits inside the orbiter.
The Rotating Service Structure at left is open to allow Space
Shuttle Discovery to roll onto the pad.
1he launch countdown begins at the 1-43 hour
mark. about three davs beíore launch. Launch control
personnel arri·e at their stations in the liring Room and
begin checking out the ílight svstems and ílight soítware
stored in mass memorv units. Displav svstems are also
At 1-2¯ hours a scheduled built-in hold is entered.
A test oí the ·ehicle`s pvrotechnic initiator controllers is
períormed. \hen the countdown resumes. crvogenic
reactants are loaded into the orbiter`s íuel cell storage
tanks. At 1-19 hours. another hold allows demating oí
the orbiter mid-bodv umbilical unit. 1he sound sup-
pression svstem water tank is íilled and orbiter and
ground support equipment closeouts resume. Aíter the
count is resumed. the three main engines are prepared
íor main propellant tanking and ílight.
At 1-11 hours. a third built-in hold gi·es the launch
team a chance to catch up on anv uníinished prepara-
tions and to troubleshoot anv ·ehicle or ground support
equipment problems that mav be a constraint to launch.
Ií no problems or delavs are encountered at the end oí
the 1-11 hour hold. the countdown continues.
1he RSS is rolled back and the orbiter is readv íor
íuel cell acti·ation and external tank crvogenic propel-
lant loading operations. 1he pad is cleared to the
perimeter gate íor operations to íill the external tank
with about 500.000 gallons oí crvogenic propellants
used bv the Shuttle`s main engines. 1his is done at the
pad approximatelv eight hours beíore the scheduled
launch. Liquid oxvgen is transíerred to the external tank
bv pumps capable oí pumping 1.300 gallons per
minute. 1he liquid ·aporizes and is transíerred to the
external tank using pressure created bv the hvdrogen
itselí. Pumps are not needed.
1he íinal hours oí the count include crew ingress.
crew module and \hite Room closeout. íinal computer
and soítware coníigurations. íinal readiness polls oí the
launch team. terminal sequencing and .
Aíter the mission. the Shuttle lands and the process-
ing sequence íor the next mission begins again to íulíilll
NASA`s ·ision to complete the International Space
Station and prepare to tra·el to the Moon. Mars and
For more information on space research on the Internet, visit:
To view photos of any orbiter on the Internet, visit:
http://mediaarchive.ksc.nasa.gov/index.cfm and select a category
under Advanced Search Option
Discovery lifts off Aug. 10, 2001, on mission STS-105, an assembly flight to the International Space Station.
IS-2005-06-018-KSC John F. Kennedy Space Center
Cover Photo: On Oct. 18, 2002, Space Shuttle Atlantis casts a needle-shaped shadow as it drops to
the runway at the Shuttle Landing Facility, completing the 4.5-million-mile round trip to the International
Space Station on mission STS-112. The mission expanded the size of the Station with the addition of
the S1 truss segment. This landing is the 60th at KSC in the history of the Shuttle program.
NASA: Explore. Discover. Understand.