In this video at 7:12 you can see a thermal shot of a landed space shuttle. There is a periodic white cloud coming out of the top. What is this cloud?


2 Answers 2


Supplementary answer because I like pictures.

Here's a schematic of the APU system. You can see the 3 exhaust ducts at the top, two on one side of where the vertical tail goes, one on the other. This is from the 1982 Shuttle Press Reference - so realize that it's not what the system looked like at the end of the program because the APU system underwent some extensive redesign. But this is still an accurate depiction of the exhaust ducts and vents.

enter image description here

Here's a top view of Discovery approaching the ISS on STS-121.

enter image description here

I cropped the picture and indicated the 3 vents.

enter image description here

You can see an ignited APU exhaust plume and the characteristic pulsing of the APU exhaust (it used a bang/bang speed control scheme) at about 4:20 into this video of the STS-134 landing.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ A picture is worth a thousand words, which makes this a very long answer :) $\endgroup$
    – Criggie
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 0:25

That is the exhaust of one of the Shuttle's three APUs. These hydrazine powered turbines provide power to Shuttle hydraulic systems.

  • 9
    $\begingroup$ That link is wonderfully detailed, is there any chance you could find the relevant part and include it in the answer please. $\endgroup$ Commented May 17, 2018 at 14:36
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Sometimes an APU exhaust plume would ignite; spectacular at night landings. $\endgroup$ Commented May 17, 2018 at 15:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble: Is this the exhaust plume ignite shot you were speaking of? I couldn't find anything clearer, but this looks more like heating than ignition. collectspace.com/review/sts123_landing06.jpg $\endgroup$ Commented May 17, 2018 at 17:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Note that APU stands for auxiliary power unit $\endgroup$ Commented May 17, 2018 at 18:10
  • $\begingroup$ @SethRobertson see supplemental answer I posted. $\endgroup$ Commented May 17, 2018 at 21:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.