Background and Status
On July 26, 1972, NASA selected Rockwell's Space Transportation
Systems Division in Downey, Calif., as the industrial contractor
for the design, development, test and evaluation of the orbiter.
The contract called for fabrication and testing of two orbiters,
a full-scale structural test article, and a main propulsion test
article. The award followed years of NASA and Air Force studies
to define and assess the feasibility of a reusable space transportation
NASA previously (March 31, 1972) had selected Rockwell's Rocketdyne
Division to design and develop the Space Shuttle main engines. Contracts
followed to Martin Marietta for the external tank (Aug. 16, 1973)
and Morton Thiokol's Wasatch Division for the solid rocket boosters
(June 27, 1974).
In addition to the orbiter DDT&E; contract, Rockwell's Space Transportation
Systems Division was given contractual responsibility as system
integrater for the overall Shuttle system.
Rockwell's Launch Operations, part of the Space Transportation
Systems Division, was under contract to NASA's Kennedy Space Center
for turnaround, processing, prelaunch testing, and launch and recovery
operations from STS-1 through the STS-11 mission.
On Oct. 1, 1983, the Lockheed Space Operations Co. was awarded
the Space Shuttle processing contract at KSC for turnaround processing,
prelaunch testing, and launch and recovery operations.
The first orbiter spacecraft, Enterprise (OV-101), was rolled out
on Sept. 17, 1976. On Jan. 31, 1977, it was transported 38 miles
overland from Rockwell's assembly facility at Palmdale, Calif.,
to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Facility at Edwards Air Force Base
for the Approach and Landing Test (ALT) program.
The 9-month-long ALT program was conducted from February through
November 1977 at Dryden and demonstrated the orbiter could fly in
the atmosphere and land like an airplane except without power, a
The ALT program involved ground tests and flight tests.
The ground tests included taxi tests of the 747 shuttle carrier
aircraft (SCA) with the Enterprise mated atop the SCA to determine
structural loads and responses and assess the mated capability in
ground handling and control characteristics up to flight takeoff
speed. The taxi tests also validated 747 steering and braking with
the orbiter attached. A ground test of orbiter systems followed
the unmanned captive tests. All orbiter systems were activated as
they would be in atmospheric flight. This was the final preparation
for the manned captive-flight phase.
Five captive flights of the Enterprise mounted atop the SCA with
the Enterprise unmanned and Enterprise systems inert were conducted
to assess the structural integrity and performance-handling qualities
of the mated craft.
Three manned captive flights that followed the five unmanned captive
flights included an astronaut crew aboard the orbiter operating
its flight control systems while the orbiter remained perched atop
the SCA. These flights were designed to exercise and evaluate all
systems in the flight environment in preparation for the orbiter
release (free) flights. They included flutter tests of the mated
craft at low and high speed, a separation trajectory test and a
dress rehearsal for the first orbiter free flight.
In the five free flights the astronaut crew separated the spacecraft
from the SCA and maneuvered to a landing at Edwards Air Force Base.
In the first four such flights the landings were on a dry lake bed;
in the fifth, the landing was on Edwards' main concrete runway under
conditions simulating a return from space. The last two free flights
were made without the tail cone, which is the spacecraft's configuration
during an actual landing from Earth orbit. These flights verified
the orbiter's pilot-guided approach and landing capability; demonstrated
the orbiter's subsonic terminal area energy management autoland
approach capability; and verified the orbiter's subsonic airworthiness,
integrated system operations and selected subsystems in preparation
for the first manned orbital flight. The flights demonstrated the
orbiter's ability to approach and land safely with a minimum gross
weight and using several center-of-gravity configurations.
For all of the captive flights and the first three free flights,
the orbiter was outfitted with a tail cone covering its aft section
to reduce aerodynamic drag and turbulence. The final two free flights
were without the tail cone, and the three simulated Space Shuttle
main engines and two orbital maneuvering system engines were exposed
The final phase of the ALT program prepared the spacecraft for
four ferry flights. Fluid systems were drained and purged, the tail
cone was reinstalled and elevon locks were installed.
The forward attachment strut was replaced to lower the orbiter's
cant from 6 to 3 degrees. This reduces drag to the mated vehicles
during the ferry flights.
After the ferry flight tests, OV-101 was returned to the NASA hangar
at Dryden and modified for vertical ground vibration tests at NASA's
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
On March 13, 1978, the Enterprise was ferried atop the SCA to MSFC.
At Marshall, Enterprise was mated with the external tank and SRB
and subjected to a series of vertical ground vibration tests. These
tested the mated configuration's critical structural dynamic response
modes, which were assessed against analytical math models used to
design the various element interfaces.
These were completed in March 1979. On April 10, 1979 the Enterprise
was ferried to Kennedy Space Center. mated with the external tank
and SRB and transported via the mobile launcher platform to Launch
Complex 39-A. At Launch Complex 39-A, the Enterprise served as a
practice and launch complex fit-check verification tool representing
the flight vehicles.
It was ferried back to Dryden at Edwards AFB in California on Aug.
16, 1979, and then returned overland to Rockwell's Palmdale final
assembly facility on Oct. 30, 1979. Certain components were refurbished
for use on flight vehicles being assembled at Palmdale. The Enterprise
was then returned overland to Dryden on Sept. 6, 1981.
During exhibition at the Paris, May and June 1983, Enterprise was
ferried to France for the Air Show as well as to Germany, Italy,
England and Canada before returning to Dryden.
From April to October 1984, Enterprise was ferried to Vandenberg
AFB and to Mobile, Ala., where it was taken by barge to New Orleans,
La., for the United States 1984 World's Fair.
In November 1984 it was transported to Vandenberg and used as a
practice and fit-check verification tool. On May 24, 1985, Enterprise
was ferried from Vandenberg to Dryden.
On Sept. 20, 1985, Enterprise was ferried from Dryden Flight Research
Facility to KSC. On Nov. 18, 1985, Enterprise was ferried from KSC
to Dulles Airport, Washington, D.C., and became the property of
the Smithsonian Institution. The Enterprise was built as a test
vehicle and is not equipped for space flight.
The second orbiter, Columbia (OV-102), was the first to fly into
space. it was transported overland on March 8, 1979, from Palmdale
to Dryden for mating atop the SCA and ferried to KSC. It arrived
on March 25, 1979, to begin preparations for the first flight into
The structural test article, after 11 months of extensive testing
at Lockheed's facility in Palmdale, was returned to Rockwell's Palmdale
facility for modification to become the second orbiter available
for operational missions. it was redesignated OV-099, the Challenger.
The main propulsion test article (MPTS-098) consisted of an orbiter
aft fuselage, a truss arrangement that simulated the orbiter's mid-fuselage
and the Shuttle main propulsion system (three Space Shuttle main
engines and the external tank). This test structure is at the Stennis
Space Center in Mississippi. A series of static firings was conducted
from 1978 through 1981 in support of the first flight into space.
On Jan. 29, 1979, NASA contracted with Rockwell to manufacture
two additional orbiters, OV-103 and OV-104 (Discovery and Atlantis),
convert the structural test article to space flight configuration
(Challenger) and modify Columbia from its development configuration
to that required for operational flights.
NASA named the first four orbiter spacecraft after famous exploration
sailing ships. In the order they became operational, they are:
Columbia (OV-102), after a sailing frigate launched in 1836,
one of the first Navy ships to circumnavigate the globe. Columbia
also was the name of the Apollo 11 command module that carried Neil
Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin on the first
lunar landing mission, July 20, 1969. Columbia was delivered to
Rockwell's Palmdale assembly facility for modifications on Jan.
30, 1984, and was returned to KSC on July 14, 1985, for return to
Challenger (OV-099), also a Navy ship, which from 1872 to
1876 made a prolonged exploration of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
It also was used in the Apollo program for the Apollo 17 lunar module.
Challenger was delivered to DSC on July 5, 1982.
Discovery (OV-103), after two ships, the vessel in which
Henry Hudson in 1610-11 attempted to search for a northwest passage
between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and instead discovered Hudson
Bay and the ship in which Capt. Cook discovered the Hawaiian Islands
and explored southern Alaska and western Canada. Discovery was delivered
to KSC on Nov. 9, 1983.
Atlantis (OV-104), after a two-masted ketch operated for
the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute from 1930 to 1966, which
traveled more than half a million miles in ocean research. Atlantis
was delivered to KSC on April 3, 1985.
In April 1983, under contract to NASA, Rockwell's Space Transportation
Systems Division, Downey, Calif., began the construction of structural
spares for completion in 1987. The structural spares program consisted
of an aft fuselage, crew compartment, forward reaction control system,
lower and upper forward fuselage, mid-fuselage, wings (elevons),
payload bay doors, vertical stabilizer (rudder/speed brake), body
flap and one set of orbital maneuvering system/reaction control
On Sept. 12, 1985, Rockwell International's Shuttle Operations
Co., Houston, Texas, was awarded the Space Transportation System
operation contract at NASA's Johnson Space Center, consolidating
work previously performed under 22 contracts by 16 different contractors.
On July 31, 1987, NASA awarded Rockwell's Space Transportation
Systems Division, Downey, Calif., a contract to build a replacement
Space Shuttle orbiter using the structural spares. The replacement
orbiter will be assembled at Rockwell's Palmdale, Calif., assembly
facility and is scheduled for completion in 1991. This orbiter is