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Countdown! NASA Launch Vehicles and Facilities
PMS 018-B 
October 1991
Section 3

Shuttle Landing Facility

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When an orbiter lands at the Kennedy Space Center, it touches down on one of the world's longest runways. The concrete facility is located about two miles northwest of the Vehicle Assembly Building on a northwest/southeast alignment.

The Shuttle Landing Facility is about twice the length and width of the average commercial airport runway. It is approximately 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) long, 300 feet (91.4 meters) wide and 16 inches (40.6 centimeters) thick at the center. There is a 1,000-foot (305-meter) safety overrun at each end. Small grooves, each 0.25 inch (0.63 centimeter) wide and deep, run across most of the concrete from side to side. Unlike conventional aircraft, the orbiter lacks propulsion during the landing phase. Its high-speed glide must bring it in for a landing perfectly the first time - there is no circle-and-try-again capability. The landing speed of the orbiter ranges from 213 to 226 miles (343 to 364 kilometers) per hour.

Navigational aids on the ground and on board the orbiter help to direct the Space Shuttle to a smooth landing. A Microwave Scanning Beam Landing System guides the final approach and brings the orbiter to the designated point on the runway.

Landings may be made from the northwest to southeast (Runway 15) or from the southeast to northwest (Runway 33).

The runway is not perfectly flat; it has a slope of 24 inches (61 centimeters) from the centerline to the edge. The slope of the runway, as well as the small grooves, provide a very effective way to shed water, helping to prevent hydroplaning in wet weather. The grooves also provide a more skid-resistant surface. More recent runway modifications enhance safety and reduce orbiter tire wear during landing. At each end, where the orbiter main gear normally touches down, a section 3,500 feet (1,067 meters) long has been ground down to create a smoother surface, one without cross grooves. The overruns on each end have been upgraded to be equivalent to the runway itself; in effect, providing a runway that is 17,000 feet (5,182 meters) long. The ground along both sides of the runway has been strengthened to support more weight. And improvements have been made to the landing zone light fixtures.

A 550-by-490-foot (168-by-149-meter) aircraft parking apron, or ramp, is located at the southeastern end of the runway. On the northeast corner of the ramp is the mate/demate device which attaches the orbiter to or lifts it from the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft during ferry operations. There are movable platforms for access to some orbiter components.

The mate/demate device can lift up to 230,000 pounds (104,328 kilograms) and withstand winds of up to 125 miles (201 kilometers) per hour.

A diesel-driven towing tractor brings the orbiter to its next stop after landing, the Orbiter Processing Facility.

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