What range of orbital elements (inclination, apogee, eccenticity) was available for the space shuttle? What range has it really achieved? What were the engineered limits?

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    $\begingroup$ It depends on the orbiter in question and the year (they differed in mass). ODS made payload (and achievable orbit) smaller; inclination was determined by the range it was launched from (the Cape vs Vandenberg when Vandenberg was allowed). $\endgroup$ Aug 13, 2013 at 19:14
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for clarification on the orbiter differences and other nuances. I'd expect the answer to cover all of that. And I specifically asking about the range, not constant values. I can remove the 'optimal' if that is misleading. $\endgroup$
    – user54
    Aug 13, 2013 at 19:22
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    $\begingroup$ References: jsc.nasa.gov/news/columbia/fr_generic.pdf and nasa.gov/centers/johnson/pdf/… $\endgroup$ Aug 13, 2013 at 19:43
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    $\begingroup$ The highest circular orbit achievable was around 700 km (with launch due east from the Cape). This was limited by the heat shield (both peak heat flux and total heat flux) and OMS propellant. $\endgroup$ Aug 22, 2013 at 15:50

1 Answer 1



All the shuttles launched from KSC has a maximum inclination of 57 degrees(latitudes between 60 N and 60 S) .

Azimuths greater than 120 degrees to the southeast (i.e., inclinations greater than 39 degrees) are not allowed because they overfly the Bahamas just off the coast of Florida, not to mention the extreme eastern tip of Cuba and Haiti.


usually circular (almost)with the the altitude of 200 km to 600 km

but for STS-125

Perigee 486 kilometres (302 mi)

Apogee 578 kilometres (359 mi)

Inclination 28.5°

Period 97 min

external source

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    $\begingroup$ If the maximum was 57 degrees, then how did they get a 62 degree inclination? $\endgroup$
    – PearsonArtPhoto
    Sep 4, 2013 at 17:18
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    $\begingroup$ That mission used a "dog-leg" ascent profile where the initial azimuth was 57 but the vehicle turned during ascent to the higher inclination once the range safety limitations were cleared. Very expensive performance-wise. $\endgroup$ Dec 17, 2014 at 12:46

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