Space shuttle re-entry

Posted on 2011-05-13
Medium Priority
Last Modified: 2012-06-21
Hi Experts,

Why does the space shuttle slam into the atmosphere in a blaze of thermal fury in order to slow from orbital to landing speed. If it entered the atmosphere in a more controlled manner and set itself the task of loosing 1mph per second re-entry would be as gentle as a car rolling to a halt and no thermal stress. It would of course take 5 hours but this would be worth it in order to create a safer method of re-entry.
Question by:DColin
  • 3
LVL 85

Expert Comment

ID: 35752399
after loosing 1mph per second for a while it would drop into a lower orbit with denser atmosphere and would not be able to avoid increased friction and thermal fury.

Author Comment

ID: 35752682

As the air density increases would this not allow the shuttle to then fly/glide/skip rather than plunge.
LVL 85

Expert Comment

ID: 35752710
flying or plunging through dense enough air at high enough speeds still generates thermal fury
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Accepted Solution

ozo earned 2000 total points
ID: 35752801
here is an analysis of the lift to drag ratio needed for a shallow glide reentrys
But at hypersonic speeds, high lift/drag shapes cause more thermal stress because the shock wave stays closer to the vehicle.
LVL 32

Expert Comment

ID: 35752896
Wouldn't that be something like sticking your hand in a 450F oven for 10 seconds versus sticking it in 200F for 15 minutes?  In the first situation, the differential is greater, but there is enough insulation (hair, air, skin & tissue mass) to avoid burns.  In the second situation, longer exposure will cook the contents, even if the outer temp would be X degrees cooler.

OSHA heat stress exposure for an 8-hour shift is something like 90F, with less than 25% work-to-rest time (light work, not hard labor), assuming prior acclimation.

In the the giant crystal caves in Mexico, the temps are around 135-150F.  Exposure for the scientific crews is 20-30 minutes with cooling apparatus before risk of cardiac arrest.  Without cooling, death is only a few minutes away.  At 100% humidity, perspiration can't evaporate to cool.

I think a 5-hour re-entry would not be survivable.

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