Sat, Oct 25, 2003
New 5-Segment Motor Can Ensure Shuttle Orbit
Imagine a space shuttle
motor -- one motor -- that can virtually guarantee the space plane
achieves orbit even in an emergency. They've been imagining that a
lot at the Alliant Thiokol plant. And they've demonstrated the
concept. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports the country's biggest
space shuttle motor was tested successfully not long ago at the
company's Propulsion Division facility in Promontory (UT).
"It was a great success," said Jody Singer, manager of the Space
Shuttle Reusable Solid Rocket Motor Project Office at NASA's
Marshall Space Flight Center.
Right now, shuttle motors have four segments, each 30-feet long
and filled with propellant. Together they can generate 3.3 million
pounds of thrust. The new motor comes in five easy pieces and
generates 3.6 million pounds of thrust. If it were your Chevy
engine, it would generate 19.6 million horsepower. Woof. That would
mean the shuttle could carry an extra 23,000 pounds of supplies and
"With the new motor you enhance the safety of the event because
you can still achieve orbit. So no emergency landings (would be
needed)," said Mike Kahn, program manager at ATK Thiokol. The idea
is, with a fifth motor, the shuttle would have enough thrust to
climb into orbit even if the main engine failed sometime in the
first 120 seconds of a mission. Right now, NASA relies on emergency
rockets -- which have never been used.
The test run lasted 128-seconds, a tad longer than needed.
Alas, completion of the motor project is still years away. And,
for now, that's academic, given the fact that the shuttles are
still grounded in the wake of the Columbia disaster. NASA shuttles
are expected to be flying again in about a year.
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