CA Mk3 Shuttle - STS-1XL
by gc1ceo
uploaded 2017-09-07
(updated 2019-01-05)
mod ship
#spaceshuttle #shuttle


  • Type: VAB
  • Class: ship
  • Part Count: 62
  • Mods: 4


  • Cormorant Aeronology
  • Squad (stock)
  • TweakScale - Rescale Everything!
  • TweakableEverything

MECHJEB Settings

Orbital Altitude: 128 (km)
Prevent Overheats ON
Limit Q to 35000 (pa)
Limit Acceleration to 35 (m/s)
Limit Throttle to 80-100%
Force Roll to -180 / -180
Corrective Steering Gain 2.8

Turn Start Alt 2.5 (km)
Turn Start Velocity 325 (m/s)
Turn End Alt 80 (km)
Final Flight Path Angle 0
Turn Shape 60

History and Background

There were plans for a reusable space plane for as long as the beginning of the dream of spaceflight. The Space Race between the United States and Soviet Union technically began with the roughest definitions of space planes such as the X-15 which was launched via another aircraft. There were numerous plans for space planes launched from a rocket including the USAF’s Dyna-Soar (cancelled in the early 1960s) and the Soviet MIG-105. However this dream wasn’t realized until the beginning of the Nixon-era program in 1969 that eventually led to development of what became the Space Shuttle. The first orbiter, Enterprise, was finished in 1976 and went through several years of atmospheric tests with first space-capable orbiter, Columbia, finished several years later.

The launch of the Columbia on STS-1 in April 1981 began the lengthy and second-most expensive space program in history which lasted until the final mission of Space Shuttle Atlantis in July 2011. There were 135 space shuttle missions over a 30-year career with two tragic failures which saw the loss of the Challenger on January 28th, 1986 and the loss of Columbia on January 16th, 2003. This also led to the Space Shuttle unfortunately also leading the record of being the most deadly spacecraft to date. Both tragedies saw the loss of their entire crews, a total of 14 astronauts between the two disasters.

The Columbia in its earliest missions to test out the capabilities in Space Shuttle in orbit only had a crew of two pilots and the external fuel tank was painted white for protective purposes until they realized it wasn’t necessary which saved weight and gave the later shuttle missions one of its most designating features – an unpainted orange main fuel tank.

Basic Description

The CA Mk3 Shuttle STS-1XX uses primarily Cormorant Aeronology parts and is modified from the original craft made by its author, Pak. It was further adjusted using advice from drtedastro on modifying gimbals, setting up Mechjeb, and making it far easier to fly. I further adjusted it to approximate the earliest configuration of the Columbia during its first two missions including a white external tank. It is designed for short LKO (Low Kerbin Orbits) carrying up to four kerbonauts and minimal payload. The primary mission profile is to use it for training on how to fly the shuttle but it is rated for a payload of up to 10 tonnes and has enough power generated by the fuel cells to stay in orbit for a while if necessary.

The STS-1XL variant specifically replaces the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) with Liquid Rocket Boosters (LRBS) from Cormorant Aeronology’s Stage II expansion of its Shuttle Lifting Body add-on. This is somewhat grounded in real-life proposals made in the late 1980s and early 1990s for creating LRBs for the Space Shuttle. There were a couple of advantages to using LRBs for the Space Shuttle including improving crew safety (a big consideration after the Challenger disaster) and greater fuel efficiency in certain cases. The LRBs for this shuttle allow for a simpler and more adjustable ascent process and, in certain cases, an increased payload capacity.

I recommend that many of the shuttle operations are handled through Mechjeb as the shuttle was highly automated during much of its mission operation including launching, ascending, orbiting, and landing. It can be flown manually however it’d be quite a challenge for novice and intermediate players because of its further unique ascent profile although the 1XL variant is a bit easier to fly manually.

I have included a MechJeb profile for my recommended settings which usually give me consistent results. You should feel free to play with my recommendations and if you find a more optimal profile then please let me know so I can possibly improve upon it. My recommendations for a planned orbit are between 100 and 130 km with drtedastro finding the most ideal to be between 125 and 128 km. The shuttle’s orbital maneuvering engines (OME) are monopropellent with a reasonable thrust of 100 kN but aren’t meant to be used outside of LKO. You’ll probably have around 400 to 480 dV by the time you have reached your planned initial orbit although that can vary based on the efficiency of your ascent profile.

While it’s reasonable to make some small orbital changes I recommend that you keep about 100 to 130 dV in reserve for when you plan your atmospheric re-entry and landing. If you actually deplete your fuel there isn’t a very small backup fuel source, normally used for the fuel cells, which might get you back into the atmosphere but there are no guarantees.

Launch, Ascent, and Orbital Procedures

The launch and ascent procedures are pretty complex to most spacecraft and the Space Shuttle in real life was one of the complicated spacecraft ever built. You should make sure the gimbals for the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) and the Orbital Maneuvering Engines (OME) are locked before launching the shuttle. Unlike STS-1XX it’s recommended that you activate force rolling at launch instead of waiting a few seconds.

While the launch and ascent procedure are still fairly complex compared to most spacecraft it is a bit simpler with the STS-1XL by eliminating some of the problems associated with solid rocket boosters. You should keep in mind that by default there is a single throttle control for all the engines so adjustments to the boosters will also affect the main engines and vica versa.

The first step, much like in real life, is to fire the SSMEs for just a moment until the craft stabilizes. This is also the chance to initialize the first abort mode, Redundant Set Launch Sequencer (RSLS), which allows you to abort the mission simply by shutting down the SSMEs.

The second step involves firing the liquid fuel boosters, releasing the launch clamps and beginning your lift-off. This begins one of the most dangerous phases of the ascent although with the LRBs you can shut them off at any time and don’t have to ride out the boosters. You should still keep a straight vertical ascent and make your roll so that the top (or back) of the shuttle is facing your desired inclination. You may encounter some unwanted wobble and at times the shuttle may feel a bit unstable especially until you have built up some speed. You should still avoid starting your gravity turn until around a velocity of 325 m/s or at least an altitude of 2.5 km but failing to do so may be recoverable with the LRBs since their throttle can be adjusted and can be shutdown.

Next you should unlock the SSME gimbals so that they can take part in the gravity turn which begins around 2.5 and 325 m/s. You might encounter wobble and insanity when beginning the turn, especially if flown manually, but otherwise just continue the turn and wait for the boosters to be exhausted. The shuttle should start to stabilize after a short while and you’ll probably encounter more wobble and instability in the last 20 to 30 seconds before the boosters are exhausted.

Once the boosters are exhausted and have been successfully decoupled you have reached a decision point where you can continue your ascent or resort to the second and most dangerous abort mode, Return to Launch Site (RLS). This abort mode has you decouple the boosters and initially continue your ascent. The most difficult part is to roll in a way that you can safely release the main fuel tank and establish a stable glide back to the ground for a landing. You should ideally be able to follow the normal landing procedure and return to the KSC runway but it’s entirely possible that you’ll need to pick another place to land. The window for this is to be a viable option is pretty short and generally unnecessary in KSP unless you have a significant SSME failure.

If you have chosen to continue your ascent then you should adjust the SSME throttle to avoid lowering your Time to Apoapsis (TOA) making sure that it raises up to and doesn’t go below about 45 seconds. Once you have reached that point you should be pretty confident in the shuttle’s ability to reach space with little to no further action required on your part. You might encounter a bit of wobble as the shuttle goes through the upper atmosphere although on many of my ascents it was completely smooth. You might be tempted to activate the RCS or lock the SSME gimbals but most actions will make the problem far worse and unnecessarily use up your fuel supplies.

When you are nearing the edge of space (between 69 and 70 km) and your projected apoapsis is getting close to your desired altitude you are ready to make your next couple of decisions. The first is possibly adjusting your thrust to as low as 40% to potentially save some fuel as you sail through the last bits of atmosphere which requires a bit of trial and error on your part. The second is whatever or you want to try and reach orbit or attempt the third abort mode known as Abort Once Around (AOA) .

The third abort mode, Abort Once Around (AOA), involves either making a single orbit or a sub-orbital trajectory and is available once it’s certain that you will reach space regardless of any hardware failures. This might become necessary if you have a significant SSME failure towards the end of your ascent procedure when reaching space is unavoidable. The rest of this abort mode procedure is very similar to your normal re-entry and landing procedure except that you might not be in the right position to make a landing at your desired target and will have to pick an alternative location to make your landing.

If you have chosen to continue your mission and reach orbit then this step begins once you have reached space and can calculate your orbital burn maneuvers. When it comes to the shuttle this can be handled in several ways – both historically and a-historically. Your options also might be limited if you are carrying a heavier payload and your main fuel tank has already been depleted. If that’s the case your only option at this point is to immediately decouple the empty main fuel tank and proceed entirely with the OMEs. The procedure for this approach is similar to most simple orbital burns and you simply burn prograde upon approaching your apoapsis usually dividing the burn time by half and starting your burn at that many seconds (or minutes or hours) prior to reaching your apoapsis.

If you still have fuel in your main fuel tank this gives you some additional options – the simplest approach being that if you have enough dV you can simply use the SSMEs for a single burn. However this leaves with the spent main fuel tank as orbital debris which you may accidentally, and tragically, encounter during your mission. I still recommend this for more novice players because of its simplicity or if you don’t yet feel comfortable with calculating multiple and more complicated burns.

The historical approach uses a mixture of both sets of engines with multiple burns to eventually reach your desired orbit. The SSMEs are fired either to exhaustion or until your periapsis is somewhere between 20 and 50 km giving you a considerable period of time between the shuttle will potentially hit the atmosphere again. You should then rotate the shuttle a bit and eject the spent main fuel tank – which will eventually re-enter that atmosphere and be destroyed – and then make a second burn with your OMEs to put yourself into a stable orbit. You might also make a couple of smaller burns with your OMEs over the course of your first orbit to reach your desired parameters.

Once you have reached some kind of stable orbit but before making additional burns you have the option for the last abort mode, Abort to Orbit (ATO) which can be made for a number of reasons including engine failures, insufficient fuel, or accidental damage to the engines. This may have a profound effect on your mission but affords you the opportunity to choose when and how you will re-enter that atmosphere and allow to make your planned landing. This was almost done on the STS-93 mission in July 1999 when one of the Columbia’s engines under-performed during the ascent although they were able to reach their planned orbit and complete their mission.

Additional Description and Details

The STS-1XX is intentionally limited as its purpose is to be a orbital shuttle trainer so your immediate mission options are rather limited. There are a number of possibilities beginning with the fact the shuttle bay can be used as a training facility for EVAs. While it’s a-historical you could seal kerbonauts inside the shuttle bay and still allow them a bit of movement – it is possible that they may still glitch through the closed shuttle bays.

The shuttle’s airlock module provides for space for two additional Kerbonauts – although again this would be an a-historical use of the airlock module – so rescue missions for a pair of kerbonauts stranded in orbit would be a possibility.

Your mission’s longevity might be affected by a number of factors starting with limited fuel supplies and limited electricity. The situation with electricity is addressed through the inclusion of two primary fuel cells and a backup fuel cell which convert liquid fuel/oxidier into electricity of which a small reserve fuel tank has been included in the shuttle bay. You might still be able to return to the ground safely without electricity but it will be extremely difficult. The primary fuel cells can be activated with an action group while the backup fuel cell has to be operated manually.

You will probably have between 400 and 480 dV available to your OMEs which have a thrust of 100 kN so rendezvous operations are very feasible but may require you to optimize your burns to avoid wasting fuel. A single mission to approach another spacecraft in LKO (Low Kerbin Orbit) will probably use at least half of your monopropellent supply. There isn’t a way to dock with another spacecraft with the STS-1XX (another intentional limitation) but EVAs back and forth with another vessel are entirely possible. I recommend that you keep about 100 dV in reserve to make your re-entry although in a pinch you can get creative by transferring reserve fuel meant for the fuel cells to the SSMEs.

The shuttle is a space plane so it’s meant to land on a conventional runway somewhere on Kerbin – ideally KSC – although the vehicle is very sturdy and impact prone so it can landed (in one piece) almost anywhere. The OMEs should be used to de-orbit the shuttle but afterwards should be shutoff and locked since they won’t h ave any measurable effect in the atmosphere. You should handle the initial re-entry with a 40 degree angle-of-attack (AOA) to allow the impact to be made with the thermal tiles on the underside of the shuttle much like in real life. You should keep SAS on during the entire landing and make gentle adjustments until you reach about 30 to 40 km.

When you have gotten into the upper atmosphere somewhere between 30 and 40 km this is where you should treat it like a gliding plane. You should unlock and set the control surfaces and attempt to start bleeding off your speed using a series of broad S-turns back and forth much like the real Space Shuttle. Your objective should be to get your speed down to 1000 to 1200 m/s at which point you should find the shuttle far more controllable.

The rest of the approach and landing is handled as an unpowered glider and landing will be rather difficult without plenty of practice although as previously mentioned the shuttle can take some serious punishment during its landing compared to most aircraft. The suggested approach is to over-shoot the KSC runaway and make your final approach at Runaway 027 so that you still have room to land on the ground even if you can’t make the runaway. You should lower the landing gear at about 1 to 2 km and if you want to be historical you can pretend the landing gear can’t be raised again like the real Space Shuttle. When you are about 40 to 100 m above the ground you should flare up by pulling back to allow the rear wheels to hit the ground first. An incredibly hard landing might result in the destruction of one, or both wings, but your crew should still be able to walk away.

Built in the VAB in KSP version 1.6.0.

swipe to switch images, tap to close