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Quest for Perfection...

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The Space Shuttle Reusable Solid Rocket Motor

The sense of exploration is intimately bound up with human resolve, and for a nation to believe that it is still committed to forward motion is to ensure its continuance.
James A. Michener

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The Cycle
As the Apollo program came to a close, the development of a manned, reusable space transportation system became the primary focus of the U.S. space effort. In 1974, ATK was chosen by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to design and build the solid rocket motors that would boost the eet of orbiters from the launch pad to the edge of space. ATKs efforts were rewarded in 1981 with the maiden ight of Columbia (STS-1). A new era in space exploration had begun. The Space Shuttle reusable solid rocket motor (RSRM) is the largest solid rocket motor ever own and the rst designed for reuse. From ignition to end of burn, each RSRM generates an average thrust of 2,600,000 pounds and burns for approximately 123.6 seconds. Each motor is just over 126 feet long and 12 feet in diameter. The entire boosterincluding nose cap, frustum, and the forward and aft skirtsis approximately 149 feet long. Of the motors total weight of 1,300,000 pounds, propellant accounts for 1,107,000 pounds. Each launch requires the boost of two RSRMs. By the time the twin RSRMs have completed their task, the Space Shuttle orbiter has reached an altitude of 24 nautical miles and is traveling at a speed in excess of 3,000 miles per hour. With safety, quality, and reliability as their primary objectives, ATK engineers direct approximately 110,000 quality control inspections on each RSRM ight set. In addition, RSRMs are periodically static tested as part of an ongoing quality assurance and development process. Nothing is left to chance.

THE LAUNCH People who have had the opportunity to witness a Space Shuttle launch walk away impressed, the sight and sound indelibly etched in their minds. The RSRMs together produce an incredible 5.3 million pounds of maximum thrust. This translates into approximately 71 percent of the thrust needed to propel the orbiter and its crew to a speed of 3,094 miles per hour and an altitude of 24 nautical miles. It is a high-tech event that can be matched by no other nation. RECOVERY Once their task is complete, the RSRMs separate from the orbiter and fall, their descent slowed by parachute to the ocean below. They come to rest approximately 141 miles downrange, oating in a nozzle-end-down position. They are recovered and returned to the mainland, where they will be refurbished and prepared for their next Space Shuttle mission. REFURBISHMENT From Cape Canaveral, the spent RSRMs are shipped by railcar back to ATKs Utah facilities. With great care, they are cleaned, inspected, and tested to become candidates for a future launch and remain an integral part of the cycle. CASE PREPARATION The RSRM case is made up of nine cylinders, an aft dome, and a forward dome. In preparation for their solid propellant, the cylinders are joined into four primary segments. These are called casting segments. Insulation capable of protecting the case from the high temperatures of motor operation is applied. The propellant will be bonded to this case-protecting insulation. PROPELLANT CASTING The solid propellant that powers the RSRMs is liquid when poured into the

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four primary segments that comprise each motor. The propellant is cured over a period of four days. During this curing process, the propellant solidies. It requires approximately 40 seven-thousand-pound batches of propellant to ll each segment. A fully loaded RSRM contains over a million pounds of solid propellant. NOZZLE MANUFACTURE The nozzle is a complex structure consisting of layers of glass and carbon-cloth materials bonded to aluminum and steel structures. These materials are wound at specied angles, then cured to form a dense, homogeneous insulating material capable of withstanding temperatures reaching 6,000oF. The cured components are then adhesively bonded to their metal support structures. Finally, the metal sections are joined to form the complete nozzle assembly. FINAL ASSEMBLY Before an RSRM is certied for launch, it is X-rayed and ultrasonically inspected to ensure that no aws or inconsistencies exist in the propellant or insulation. The nozzle is then installed in the aft segment and the igniter installed in the forward. Once the systems tunnel is in place, the segment is prepared for shipping STACKING Upon reaching their Florida destination, the segments are removed from their railcars, inspected, and, ultimately, transported to the Vehicle Assembly Building. There, they are stacked and prepared for mating with the external tank and the orbiter. THE LAUNCH At this point, the next launch is not far off. The mobile launch platform will soon carry another Space Shuttle stack to the launch site. And at ignition, the cycle will begin anew.


THE IGNITER The igniter is itself an internally mounted solid rocket motor. It is approximately 48 inches long and 17 inches in diameter. Containing 134 pounds of propellant, the igniter, when electrically activated, spreads ame down the entire length of the solid rocket motor. Approximately 0.34 seconds later, the Space Shuttle orbiter begins its ascent. THE MOTOR CASE Consisting of 11 steel sectionsnine cylinders, an aft dome, and a forward domejoined tang to clevis and held together by load-bearing pins, the case is weld-free. Moreover, its segments are reusable, designed to perform safely and predictably for up to 20 launches. THE PROPELLANT When we speak of solid rocket motors, we are referring to the propellant, which is solid and has somewhat the same consistency as the eraser on a pencil. The solid propellant used to power the Space Shuttle is a composition of aluminum powder (the fuel), ammonium perchlorate (the oxidizer), HB polymer (the binder), a measured amount of iron oxide to ensure the desired propellant burn rate, and an epoxy curing agent. THE NOZZLE The RSRM nozzle, the point of exit for the hot gases of combustion, is designed to move up to eight degrees in any direction. This is made possible by the exible bearing. This capability to direct the motors thrust is crucial to guiding the orbiter along its proper trajectory until the RSRMs separate approximately two minutes after liftoff.

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September 2008

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