Space Shuttle

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The Space Shuttle, or Space Transportation System (STS), is a reusable launch system and orbital spacecraft operated by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for human spaceflight missions. The system combines rocket launch, orbital spacecraft, and re-entry spaceplane with modular add-ons. The first of four orbital test flights occurred in 1981 leading to operational flights beginning in 1982. The system is scheduled to be retired from service in 2011 after 135 launches.[1] Major missions have included launching numerous satellites and interplanetary probes,[2] conducting space science experiments, and servicing and construction of space stations.

It has been used for orbital space missions by NASA, the U.S. Department of Defense, the European Space Agency, Japan, and Germany.[3][4] The United States funded STS development and shuttle operations except for Spacelab D1 and D2 — sponsored by West Germany and reunified Germany respectively.[5][6][7][8][3] In addition, SL-J was partially funded by Japan.[4]

At launch, the Space Shuttle consists of the shuttle stack, which includes a dark orange-colored external tank (ET);[9][10] two white, slender Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs); and the Orbiter Vehicle (OV), which contains the crew and payload. Payloads can be launched into higher orbits with either of two different booster stages developed for the STS (single-stage Payload Assist Module or two-stage Inertial Upper Stage). The Space Shuttle is "stacked" in the Vehicle Assembly Building and the stack mounted on a mobile launch platform held down by four explosive bolts on each SRB which are detonated at launch.[11]

The shuttle stack launches vertically, like a conventional rocket, from a mobile launch platform. It lifts off under the power of its two SRBs and the three main engines, which are fueled by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen from the external tank. The Space Shuttle has a two-stage ascent. The SRBs provide additional thrust during liftoff and first-stage flight. About two minutes after liftoff, explosive bolts are fired, releasing the SRBs, which then parachute into the ocean, to be retrieved by ships for refurbishment and reuse. The shuttle orbiter and external tank continue to ascend on an increasingly horizontal flight path under power from the three main engines. Upon reaching 17,500 mph (7.8 km/s), necessary for low Earth orbit, the main engines are shut down. The external tank is then jettisoned downward to burn up in the atmosphere. It is, however, possible for the external tank to be re-used in orbit.[12] After jettisoning the external tank, the orbital maneuvering system (OMS) engines may be used to adjust the orbit.

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