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SPACE SHUTTLE Fact Sheet
Written and Edited by

Orbiter Structure


The Space Shuttle Orbiter is constructed in major sections. These include:

1. The Forward Fuselage, which is made up of lower and upper sections that form a clamlike shell around a pressurized crew compartment. It houses the crew compartment and supports the forward reaction control system module, nose cap, nose gear wheel well, nose gear, nose gear doors and forward Orbiter/External Tank attachment.

2. The Crew Compartment, which is a pressurized three-level compartment intended to support all astronaut activities aboard the Orbiter. The Crew Compartment has a side hatch for normal crew ingress and egress which can be blown in an emergency.

The Crew Compartment also contains a hatch into an airlock from the middeck, and a hatch from the airlock through the aft bulkhead into the payload bay to support either spacewalks or access to pressurized modules in the payload bay area.

The Crew Compartment has 11 windows, including six forward windows, two overhead rendezvous observation windows, two aft payload bay viewing windows and a single side hatch window. Three panes make up each window. At a total width of nearly three inches, these are the thickest windows ever designed for see-through flight applications.

The Crew Compartment contains three levels, including a flight deck located at the top, a middeck in the center and a lower level equipment bay. The Crew Compartment is pressurized at 14.7 pounds per square-inch with an atmosphere of 80% nitrogen and 20% oxygen. This accommodates the crew with a shirt-sleeve working environment.

3. The Airlock, which is typically housed in the crew compartment middeck. The Airlock is 83 inches long and has a diameter of 63 inches. Two pressurized sealing hatches and a complement of support system hardware are contained in the Airlock. Each sealing hatch has a four-inch diameter observation window.

Depending on the mission application, the Airlock can be positioned in either the crew compartment or the payload bay in support of spacewalk activities. The Airlock can also be modified to employ a tunnel adapter hatch, tunnel adapter and tunnel to allow the crew to enter pressurized modules in the payload bay.

4. The Wings, which provide an aerodynamic lifting surface to produce conventional lift and control for the Orbiter. The left and right Wings consist of the wing glove and an intermediate section that includes the main landing gear wells.

The Wings also include a torque box, a forward spar for mounting the reusable leading edge structure thermal protection system, the wing/elevon interface, the elevon seal panels and the elevons, which provide flight control during atmospheric flight. Each Wing is 60 feet long and has a maximum thickness of 5 feet.

5. The Midfuselage, which provides a structural interface for the forward fuselage, aft fuselage and wings. It supports the payload bay doors, hinges, tie-down fittings, forward wing glove as well as various Orbiter system components. The Midfuselage provides the structural foundation for the payload bay.

6. The Payload Bay Doors, which are opened shortly after orbit is achieved to allow heat to be released from the Orbiter and to allow the release of payloads as necessary. The two Payload Bay Doors are hinged at the port or starboard side of the midfuselage and are latched at the centerline atop the Orbiter.

Thermal seals on the Payload Bay Doors provide a relatively airtight environment within the payload bay when the doors are closed. This seal is critical when ground operations require equipment and payloads to be maintained within the payload bay. Each Payload Bay Door is 60 feet long by 15 feet wide.

7. The Aft Fuselage, which consists of an outer shell, thrust structure and internal secondary structure. The Aft Fuselage supports and interfaces with the left-hand and right-hand aft orbital maneuvering system/reaction control system pods.

The Aft Fuselage also supports and interfaces with the wing aft spars, midfuselage, Orbiter/External Tank rear attachments, Space Shuttle Main Engines, aft heat shield, body flap, vertical tail and two pre-launch umbilical panels.

The Aft Fuselage outer shell allows access to systems installed within the structure. The Aft Fuselage thrust structure supports the three Space Shuttle Main Engines and their hardware. The Aft Fuselage internal secondary structure houses hardware and wiring for auxiliary power unit, hydraulics, ammonia boiler and flash evaporator systems.

8. The Orbital Maneuvering System/Reaction Control System Pods, which are attached to the upper aft fuselage left and right sides and contain all of the Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) and Reaction Control System (RCS) propulsion elements that are located at the aft of the Orbiter.

9. The Body Flap, which provides a thermal shield for the three Space Shuttle Main Engines during re-entry and provides the Orbiter with pitch control trim during atmospheric flight.

10. The Vertical Tail, which consists of a structural fin surface, a rudder/speed brake surface, a tip and a lower trailing edge. The Vertical Tail provides aerodynamic stability for the Orbiter during flight, and its rudder can be split into two halves to act as a speed brake during landing.


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