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Orbiter Ground Turnaround

Spacecraft recovery operations at the nominal end-of-mission landing site are supported by approximately 160 Space Shuttle launch operations team members. Ground team members wearing self-contained atmospheric protective ensemble suits that protect them from toxic chemicals approach the spacecraft as soon as it stops rolling. The ground team members take sensor measurements to ensure the atmosphere in the vicinity of the spacecraft is not explosive. In the event of propellant leaks, a wind machine truck carrying a large fan will be moved into the area to create a turbulent airflow that will break up gas concentrations and reduce the potential for an explosion.

A ground support equipment air-conditioning purge unit is attached to the right-hand orbiter T-0 umbilical so cool air can be directed through the orbiter's aft fuselage, payload bay, forward fuselage, wings, vertical stabilizer, and orbital maneuvering system/reaction control system pods to dissipate the heat of entry.

A second ground support equipment ground cooling unit is connected to the left-hand orbiter T-0 umbilical spacecraft Freon Coolant loops to provide cooling for the flight crew and avionics during the postlanding and system checks. The spacecraft fuel cells remain powered up at this time. The flight crew will then exit the spacecraft, and a ground crew will power down the spacecraft.

AT KSC, the orbiter and ground support equipment convoy move from the runway to the Orbiter Processing Facility.

If the spacecraft lands at Edwards, the same procedures and ground support equipment are used as at the KSC after the orbiter has stopped on the runway. The orbiter and ground support equipment convoy move from the runway to the orbiter mate and demate facility at Edwards. After detailed inspection, the spacecraft is prepared to be ferried atop the Shuttle carrier aircraft from Edwards to KSC. For ferrying, a tail cone is installed over the aft section of the orbiter.

In the event of a landing at an alternate site, a crew of about eight team members will move to the landing site to assist the astronaut crew in preparing the orbiter for loading aboard the Shuttle carrier aircraft for transport back to the KSC. For landings outside the United States, personnel at the contingency landing sites will be provided minimum training on safe handling of the orbiter with emphasis on crash rescue training, how to tow the orbiter to a safe area, and prevention of propellant conflagration.

Upon its return to the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) at KSC, the orbiter is safed (ordnance devices safed), the payload (if any) is removed, and the orbiter payload bay is reconfigured from the previous mission for the next mission. Any required maintenance and inspections are also performed while the orbiter is in the OPF. A payload for the orbiter's next mission may be installed in the orbiter's payload bay in the OPF or may be installed in the payload bay when the orbiter is at the launch pad.

The spacecraft is then towed to the Vehicle Assembly Building and mated to the external tank. The external tank and solid rocket boosters are stacked and mated on the mobile launcher platform while the orbiter is being refurbished. Space Shuttle orbiter connections are made and the integrated vehicle is checked and ordnance is installed.

The mobile launcher platform moves the entire space shuttle system on four crawlers to the launch pad, where connections are made and servicing and checkout activities begin. If the payload was not installed in the OPF, it will be installed at the launch pad followed by prelaunch activities.

Space Shuttle launches from Vandenberg will use the Vandenberg Launch Facility (SL6), which was built but never used for the manned orbital laboratory program. This facility was modified for Space Transportation System use.

The runway at Vandenberg was strengthened and lengthened from 8,000 feet to 12,000 feet to accommodate the orbiter returning from space.

When the orbiter lands at Vandenberg, the same procedures and ground support equipment and convoy are used as at KSC after the orbiter stops on the runway. The orbiter and ground support equipment are moved from the runway to the Orbiter Maintenance and Checkout Facility at Vandenberg. The orbiter processing procedures used at this facility are similar to those used at the OPF at the KSC.

Space Shuttle buildup at Vandenberg differs from that of the KSC in that the vehicle is integrated on the launch pad. The orbiter is towed overland from the Orbiter Maintenance and Checkout Facility at Vandenberg to launch facility SL6.

SL6 includes the launch mount, access tower, mobile service tower, launch control tower, payload preparation room, payload changeout room, solid rocket booster refurbishment facility, solid rocket booster disassembly facility, and liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen storage tank facilities.

The SRB start the on-the-launch-pad buildup followed by the external tank. The orbiter is then mated to the external tank on the launch pad.

The launch processing system at the launch pad is similar to the one used at KSC.

Kennedy Space Center Launch Operations has responsibility for all mating, prelaunch testing and launch control ground activities until the Space Shuttle vehicle clears the launch pad tower. Responsibility is then turned over to Mission Control Center-Houston. The Mission Control Center's responsibility includes ascent, on-orbit operations, entry, approach and landing until landing runout completion, at which time the orbiter is handed over to the postlanding operations at the landing site for turnaround and re-launch. At the launch site the SRBs and external tank are processed for launch and the SRBs are recycled for reuse.

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 04/07/2002
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