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What is the maximum apogee a Space Shuttle (and which one of the five space-flying Shuttles?) ever reached and what is the maximum one it could have reached? A Space Shuttle never exceeded the apogee record of Gemini 11 (1,368 km / 788 mi) which, till today, hasn't been broken yet. Did a Shuttle ever achieve another orbit than LEOs and parking orbits?

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    $\begingroup$ Might be worth clarifying if 'maximum apogee' is just the as flown shuttle design without the planned extension tank for the OMS, and assuming it also needs to re-enter safely afterwards. Some very rough math suggests a shuttle burning straight up could get a couple of thousand km apogee before a very non survivable nose dive. $\endgroup$ Jun 29, 2020 at 10:30
  • $\begingroup$ @GremlinWranger I mean them to return safely to Earth. I dunno of any planned extension tank, my question is concerning the Shuttles like how they actually flew. $\endgroup$ Jun 29, 2020 at 11:01
  • $\begingroup$ It is not only the problem what maximum apogee may be achieved with the orbital maneuvering system, it is also the problem of reentry from a high apogee orbit. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Jun 29, 2020 at 14:21

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The highest orbit the Space Shuttle was designed to achieve was 643 km. Theoretically one could do a more elliptical orbit, 200 km by 1000 km or so, although I suspect there would be some thermal problems, and it might be too difficult to reenter. This comes from taking the designed max and mostly splitting the difference between apogee and perigee. In any case, this would have been well below the Gemini 11 mission, which orbited circular at about 1370 km.

The highest actual Shuttle mission was most likely STS-31, which initially deployed the Hubble Space Telescope, at 631 km.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. I'm waiting for OrganicMarble (who worked for the Shuttle program) to confirm your answer before I'll accept it (the case with the 1000 km). $\endgroup$ Jun 29, 2020 at 13:38
  • $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble And why not? Just tell if PearsonArtPhoto is right in his assumption on the elliptical orbit (200 by 1000 km). $\endgroup$ Jun 29, 2020 at 13:58
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    $\begingroup$ @LoveForChrist I don't know what the answer is. It is not an easy question to write a good answer for. There were a lot of limits applied to the shuttle that constrained entry trajectories. $\endgroup$ Jun 29, 2020 at 13:59
  • $\begingroup$ My 1000 km was assuming that 200 km was an acceptable low orbit, and 600 km circular was achievable, and in theory lowering the apogee and raising the perigee by the same number was possible. Lots of assumptions there, but I'm pretty sure it isn't much higher than that. $\endgroup$
    – PearsonArtPhoto
    Jun 29, 2020 at 14:42
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Partial answer (to

What is the maximum apogee a Space Shuttle (and which one of the five space-flying Shuttles?) ever reached )

The maximum altitude reached by a shuttle orbiter on an unclassified1 mission was on STS-82 (Discovery) after the 3rd reboost of Hubble. This resulted in a 335.1 X 321.0 NM orbit. (620.6 x 594 km)

1 Published orbits for the classified shuttle missions are lower than this.

Reference: Space Shuttle Missions Summary

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  • $\begingroup$ Obviously, STS-31 went higher to 631 km as written by Pearson. $\endgroup$ Jun 29, 2020 at 15:20
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    $\begingroup$ @LoveForChrist you are free to believe what you like. imgur.com/HaqT4oV $\endgroup$ Jun 29, 2020 at 15:35

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