The 590,000kg Rockets That Shot Endeavour Into Space

Endeavour was launched into space today for the last time ever. Prayers don't shoot shuttles into space, though: Hurtling Endeavour and its crew 45km straight up were a pair of 590,000kg reusable solid rockets.

At its lightest, Space Shuttle Endeavour weighs 78,000kg with both of its rockets attached. But when Alliant Techsystems's 38m long reusable solid rocket motors (RSRMs) are fully fuelled, they weigh 590,000kg. Each. And 500,000 of those kilograms are just the solid propellant.

The propellant doesn't start out as a solid. Workers fill each of the motor's four segments with 40 3175kg batches of liquid propellant. After a curing process that takes four days, the fuel solidifies, and the fully loaded motors are ready to produce a combined maximum thrust of 2400kg. Together, they boost the crew to an altitude of 24 nautical miles, all while making travel at 4980km/h look as effortless as a magic carpet ride.

When the rockets have blown their loads, they separate from the shuttle but, due to their speed, continue moving upwards for 20 more kilometres. After that, they parachute back to Earth, splashing down 227km from the launch site. They're captured and refurbished for the next launch, which begs the question: After Atlantis goes up, does the reusable motor become useless? [Kennedy Space Center, NASA and ATK]

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