Monday, June 29, 2009

Space Shuttle landing: View from the cockpit

Just had to pass this on.

For my flying friends no explanation needed. For the non flying friends the following is information that should help understand what is going on and what to look for.

The video attached to this file is an impressive cockpit view of the landing of a space shuttle at Edwards AFB, California to Runway 22 (southwest direction). The view is through the cockpit window with a HUD (Head Up Display) superimposed in front of the window. The HUD makes it possible for the astronaut to look out of the space shuttle yet have the relevant information to fly and land in the space shuttle – altitude, speed, on course or not, wings level, etc. (no need to glance down at his instruments).

The video opens with the space shuttle flying in an easterly direction in preparation to land. There is some light conversation among the crew about a cloud cover - an undercast. You will see the undercast (clouds) at the bottom of the picture with the atmosphere giving off a faint color differentiation and then the darkening shades of blue to dark space.

One crewmember is backing up the flying astronaut by reminding him of the next events – important because there is little to no room for error as the space shuttle is one giant glider with no chance to add power or go around.

Just short of 3 minutes into the video one crewmember gives the flying astronaut a point when he should start a right turn for the runway. At about 3:10 in the video the astronaut is told he has the ‘needle’ centered referring to being on course. At about 3:46 the astronaut is told he is at the 90 – referencing the point in the pattern where he is to make a final 90 degree turn to line up with the runway.

Soon after the astronaut calls “Yeah we have the runway.” look at the upper right corner of the video to see the runway come into view. (The runway is 16,500 feet of cement - 3 miles long.)

The height above the runway makes for a steep descent by commercial airline operations – it is a 19-degree glide slope. A typical airline flies a 2.5 to 3 degree glide slope. Notice how fast the shuttle passes through altitudes and the high approach speed 200 knots.

At one point the flying astronaut makes the point that the wind is greater than anticipated and he knows that could make a difference in the remaining energy to reach the runway.

It is a great video to the end.

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