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Space Shuttle Transoceanic Abort Landing (TAL) Sites

When A TAL Occurs

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Seven or eight days prior to a shuttle launch date, depending on the TAL site, a team of NASA and contractor personnel will depart KSC and activate the TAL sites assigned to support the mission. Four to five days are required onsite to prepare the TAL site for launch support. The mission support team is managed by the NASA Ground Operations Manager (GOM) and includes about 20 contractor personnel. Department of Defense support for NASA and the GOM include a Deployed Forces Coordinator and two aircraft with an additional 35 personnel. The majority of the DOD personnel arrive on site 48 hours prior to scheduled liftoff.

If a TAL were declared, the GOM at the TAL site will be notified by Landing Support Officer (LSO) in Mission Control Center (MCC) at the Johnson Space Center that the Shuttle was aborting to the emergency landing site. The LSO would begin coordination to clear the upper air space with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The U.S. State Department will notify the American embassy country involved.

The time from declaration of a TAL abort to a landing is estimated at about 25-30 minutes. Once the Shuttle crew commander selects the TAL option the pre-programmed onboard orbiter computers would automatically steer the craft toward the designated landing site. The orbiter would roll heads-up before main engine cutoff and all extra fuel will be dumped to increase vehicle performance by decreasing its weight and reducing the toxic environment in and around the orbiter after a landing.

The shuttle would be flown at an altitude of about 350,000 feet and the main engines would cut off at the correct velocity. The external tank would be jettisoned after Main Engine Cutoff (MECO), as in a normal launch, and then tumbled to insure that it burns up on re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.

A preloaded re-entry program would then go into effect, with the orbiter encountering the atmosphere and a normal re-entry planned. Ten minutes before landing, communications would resume through the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) network, used for orbiter/Mission Control contact

The LSO and Flight Director in the MCC would keep the GOM and the TAL site informed of the status of the orbiter systems during the approach to the TAL site. Data received from the TAL-site would be used to update the orbiter's inertial guidance system 200 miles from touchdown as the spacecraft slows to Mach 7 (seven times the speed of sound).

At landing minus six minutes, the orbiter will enter what is referred to as the terminal area. At this point its altitude is still quite high, 82,000 feet, and its speed still supersonic at Mach 2.5. Its flight would be akin to a conventional aircraft's except that the orbiter's speed brakes will be left open to provide greater stability during supersonic fight.

Approximately five minutes before touchdown, the orbiter's speed would still be about Mach 1. About four minutes before touchdown, the crew commander would take over manual control of the spacecraft. This will be just prior to a maneuver known as intercepting the Heading Alignment Circle (HAC).

The HAC is a large turn to align the orbiter with the centerline of the runway and to allow the commander to bleed off any excess speed the vehicle may have.

At landing minus two minutes, the orbiter would enter its final approach at an altitude of 13,000 feet. The speedbrakes would be closed at an altitude of 3,000 feet.

At an altitude of 1,800 feet and 7,500 feet from the threshold of the runway, the commander would begin a pre-flare maneuver to pull up from a glide slope of 19 degrees to a gentler one of 1.5 degrees. Touchdown normally would occur at a speed of about 300 knots per hour.

KC-135 on RampA typical powerdown would be completed before the crew members exited the orbiter, much the same as at a normal End-of-Mission (EOM) landing. At a TAL site, this would take approximately 30 minutes to accomplish.

At about T+3 hours (touchdown plus three hours), the crew would depart the TAL site on board the C-130 aircraft enroute to the hospital at Naval Station Rota, Spain (if uninjured or only minor injuries) where they would be met by the crew return aircraft from JSC for their return to the United States.

If there were severely injured crew members, they would be medevaced on the C-130 aircraft or taken by ambulance to identified critical care medical facilities in Europe. The crew members would remain together unless medical circumstances or aircraft availability dictated otherwise.

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