As part of the NASA Space Shuttle Program -officially called the Space Transportation System (STS)-
a total of five reusable space shuttle orbiters were built with which the USA entered low-earth orbit over a period of just over 30 years.
While many different tasks were carried out in the first few years -e.g. launching and capturing satellites or research in Earth orbit in the reusable Spacelab built by ESA in Europe- only flights to the ISS were made in the last years of service. In addition, the cost per flight turned out to be higher than originally hoped. In addition, the up to 55 planned flights per year could not be realized.
The main reason for this was the much higher maintenance effort between two flights. Several components played a crucial role here:
the highly complex and reusable main engines (each orbiter requires three of them)
the orange protective foam sprayed onto the large main tank (ET),
which often flaked off and damaged the orbiter’s heat protection tiles
the heat protection tiles which were required for the re-entry into earth‘s atmosphere
A total of 135 flights were launched, for which the following orbiters were used:
Columbia with 28 flights between 1981 and 2003,
Challenger with 10 flights between 1983 and 1986,
Discovery with 39 flights between 1984 and 2011,
Atlantis with 33 flights between 1985 and 2011 and
Endeavour with 25 flights between 1992 and 2011.
Unfortunately Challenger in 1986 during ascent into earth orbit and Columbia in 2003 during re-entry into earth’s atmosphere were destroyed. A total of 14 astronauts lost their lives.
Beside space travel I am also interested in building and constructing LEGO models myself and it came to my mind to create certain components of the Space Transportation Systems using LEGO bricks.
The LEGO IDEAS Set 21321 „International Space Station“ [ISS] uses the scale 1:220 which is a good scale for my Space Shuttle LEGO MOCs and furtheron a good desk scale.
After the correct sizes had been calculated in studs, we (the redesign of the orbiter was a project of Ralf and me) took the orbiter from the "Lego Creator 31091 Shuttle Transporter" set and changed some parts according to our ideas:
the overall width has been reduced by 2 studs
the suspension of the lower two main engines was redesigned
the payload bay was equipped with the European Columbus module
the color Light Bluish Gray was used for the inside of the payload bay doors (this is how the radiators look more realistic)
a docking adapter was added
the hatch was redesigned
the entire front area (from the windows to the front) and the nose have been completely redesigned
the small control engines of the two OMS pods left and right of the vertical stabilizer were redesigned
the length of the OMS pods has been reduced
the NASA logo was placed on the left wing
the American flag, the names "USA" and "NASA", the NASA logo and the orbiter names were placed on the correct wing
as an extra, a special LEGO shuttle brick was used at the end of the payload bay
a printed LEGO shuttle tile was integrated into the nose area
April 12, 2021 will mark the 40th anniversary of the launch of the first space shuttle mission, known as STS-1 (Fig. 1).
The orbiter used was named Columbia - easy to recognize by the black tiles in the front areas of the wings.
The last mission, STS-135 (Fig. 2), was carried out in July 2011.
The orbiter used for this mission was called Atlantis.
MOC dimensions in Fig. 1 + 2: W=29,6 cm, H=50,9 cm, L=34,4 cm. W=width, H=height and L=length
number bricks in Fig. 1: total=2093 different: 235 number bricks in Fig. 2: total=2227 different: 266
In order to launch a mission into earth orbit, the space shuttle consisting of two reusable solid rockets (SRB), a large external fuel tank (ET) and the orbiter was mounted on the so-called Mobile Launch Platform (MLP - Fig. 3).
Another hallmark of the first mission was the large white ET.
From the 3rd mission (STS-3) onwards, the white color for the ET was omitted -therefore the ET appears orange- which saved several hundred kilograms in weight. This enabled more payload to be transported.
The first space shuttle mission was rated a great success.
However, the data analysis after the mission revealed a problem: 16 heat protection tiles were destroyed and 148 more damaged.
The reason for this was quickly found: sound. During the take-off process, the engines (3 main engines on the orbiter and one each on the bottom of the solid rocket boosters to the left and right of the ET) generated sound waves that were reflected from the launch site floor and returned to the space shuttle through the MLP openings. These sound waves generated strong vibrations that destroyed or damaged the tiles.
The solution to the problem was relatively simple: water. The sound suppression system was supposed to control that, in which large amounts of water were pumped onto the MLP. Since this was not sufficiently successful at the start of STS-1, an additional water injection system (wis) was installed on the MLP, which pumped water into the three openings to prevent the reflected sound waves from reaching certain components of the space shuttle, which could be successfully used from the second mission (STS-2) (Fig. 4).
MOC dimensions in Fig.s 3 + 4: B=17,8 cm, H=4,7 cm, L=26 cm.
number bricks in Fig. 3: total=771 different: 83
number bricks in Fig. 4: total=898 different: 100
With the help of a NASA crawler (Fig. 5 + 6), the space shuttle mounted on the MLP was driven to the launch site 39 A or 39 B, from where the missions were launched into an earth orbit -i.a. to the ISS-.
MOC dimensions in Fig. 5 + 6: B=21 cm, H=9,3 cm, L=26,4 cm.
number bricks in Fig. 5 + 6: total=797 different: 90
Notes regarding the MOCs:
The small scale of 1: 220 inevitably means that certain areas could not necessarily be constructed to scale
The two upper LEGO parts (18909 - Cone Half 6 x 3 x 6 Elliptic Paraboloid ) of the ET for STS-1 are currently only available in the colors Light Bluish Gray, Black, Dark Orange, Bright Light Orange and Dark Blue. So these must be colored manually.