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.