How the shuttle returns to Earth

Space ShuttleDid you know that a space shuttle has to do a series of complicated maneuvers to align itself into the correct position to achieve a safe descent?

Here's the sequence of events required:

  • The shuttle flies upside down in orbit to control its heating.
  • To re-enter the atmosphere, the shuttle is turned tail first to the direction of travel, and fires its engines to slow its speed.
  • The orbiter is then flipped the right way up and enters the top layer of the atmosphere at about a 40-degree angle from horizontal with its wings level.
  • The orientation keeps its black thermal tiles facing the majority of the heat - as high 1,650C (3,000F) on the leading edges of the wings and nose.
  • As its speed drops, the shuttle starts to fly more like an aircraft, using its rudder and wing flaps for control. It banks sharply to slow its speed still further.
  • The shuttle falls from a height of more than 360km at speeds that top Mach 30, and at an angle of 19 degrees, far steeper than that of a commercial aircraft. The spacecraft comes to a dead stop half a world a way from where it began the descent.

Boy, that sure is some tough maneuvers!

Link & Image: BBC
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