I watched a few videos "from the boosters" of their suborbital flight with the Shuttle, and what I noticed is that after the boosters were jettisoned there was a phase of flight that was quite chaotic - and they didn't travel far apart.

I can imagine given enough bad luck to enter the atmosphere at just the right angle they could crash into each other. Was that possible or was that apparent chaos just apparent, but in fact calculated not to create such risk?

(on unrelated note, how did other multi-booster platforms fare in that respect?)


1 Answer 1


There was certainly a risk that the boosters could collide with each other, once they separated they were essentially just big pieces of pipe.

The chance of it happening was extremely low though. At separation the boosters were moving at mach 4+, and as they were angled to clear the tank they were angled away from each other. The aerodynamic forces would be pushing them apart strongly at that point, and they would be pretty far apart by the time they slowed down. At some point the boosters would stop flying and start dropping, from then on random chance could conceivably have brought them together as they spun through the sky, but it would have been very unlikely for that to happen given the space they would have occupied.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Would anything of consequence have happened if they did collide? $\endgroup$
    – corsiKa
    May 11, 2016 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ Presumably the loss of two "reusable" boosters. $\endgroup$
    – MSalters
    May 11, 2016 at 15:14
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    $\begingroup$ If they did collide you'd get a rain of booster shreds over an open space of ocean and NASA buying 2 new boosters. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    May 11, 2016 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ "Hi Jim, it's Ted. We've had a bit of a situation develop kind of out of the blue. Could you perhaps deliver two more of those cigar things by next week? Yeah, whatever you want to call them. We need them in time for the launch next Saturday. Great, thanks. Talk to you later, Jim." $\endgroup$
    – user
    May 11, 2016 at 18:42
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    $\begingroup$ @LorenPechtel: My experience with KSP is pretty much "a loud explosion roughly 10 seconds after separation? Eh, just the boosters colliding again." In particular, if I use angled fins to provide clean atmospheric separation, the boosters will neatly float away from the craft, then flip around and begin accelerating towards each other as they fall. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Sep 2, 2016 at 10:47

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