Turn up your speakers and take a wild ride on a Shuttle solid rocket booster

By Phil Plait | March 15, 2012 9:31 am

On Google+, Michael Interbartolo — who worked for ten years on the Space Shuttle Program in Mission Control in Houston — just posted about this amazing video from cameras mounted on the Shuttle solid rockets as they rode into space. We’ve seen videos from rocketcams before, but this is very clear, and has enhanced sound that’ll rock your speakers:

Makes sure you have it set to HD and crank up the volume!

There’s a lot to see here! The ascent is very cool, of course, and at two minutes the solid rocket boosters (or SRBs) separate from the external tank and Orbiter. As they tumble away we see the Earth spinning around, and several times you can see the plume from the launch in the view poking up from the surface into the sky. You can also see the bright "star" of the Orbiter as it continues on into space — the SRBs only burn for about two minutes, and are used as an assist to boost the Orbiter above the atmosphere. Once the SRBs drop away, the Orbiter burns liquid fuel from the orange external tank until it has enough speed to attain orbit.

The drop back to Earth is fascinating to watch as well. The sounds are odd and hypnotic; roaring, moaning, rushing air… and then the parachutes open. Finally, the boosters splash down in the Atlantic, and it was a jolt to see once again how hard they smack into the water.

I was also interested in watching the numbers flashing past: on the upper left is elapsed time, and on the upper right is the air speed as calculated using on board instruments. Watch as the speed increases… and then the increase increases! In other words, the acceleration of the whole system increases quite a bit with time. That’s because the thrust from the rockets — the force they apply to the stack — is roughly constant, but as they burn fuel, the mass decreases. Since force = mass × acceleration (F = ma, with a hat tip to Isaac Newton!), as the mass drops, the acceleration must increase.

The astronauts inside at first feel only a moderate force (about 1.7 g), but it increases up to 2.7 g right before the SRBs stop burning and then detach. The ride gets much smoother then, since burning liquid fuel is a more gentle process. Because the main engines don’t generate as much thrust as the SRBs, the acceleration drops right after the SRBs fall away. But it begins to increase again as liquid fuel continues to burn and the mass decreases, topping off at 3 g until the main tank runs out of gas and detaches, leaving just the Orbiter with its onboard fuel to head into orbit.

This video is part of an extra bit of footage that’ll be on a DVD/BluRay called "Ascent: Commemorating the Space Shuttle" put together by NASA. There’s a lot to say about this now-retired rocket system, of course, both good and bad. But video like this reminds me of how amazing it is that we have the ability to go into space. All we have to do is choose to do it… and do it wisely.

Related Posts:

Endeavour’s eye view of her last launch
Ride an SRB video into space
Awesome Shuttle launch videos!


Comments (47)

  1. Blargh

    “Enhanced” sound? As in “added foley” or “reduced noise”?

  2. Messier Tidy Upper

    Superluminous clip – thankyou. :-)

    I miss the Space Shuttles already. They were second greatest spacecraft ever built (in my view) behind only the combined Apollo-Saturn V rocketships. We will not see their like again for a long time. :-(

  3. Dude,
    Love this! When I grow up, I wanna be an SRB.
    Very cool cloud formation as the Shuttle pushes past the sound barrier at 1:14.
    Love the plume trying to tether the escapee to Florida, and the surprise cameos of fellow SRB, Orbiter, and Earth as the cameras and their hosts tumble.

    Two questions, if you have the chance to answer these:
    What did the SRB jettison just before splashdown?
    And what is that black spot/structure on the horizon near where the second SRB heads to splashdown?

    Thanks for sharing this share.

  4. Mitch J

    You know what I’d like to see- a video showing the velocity of the shuttle as it ascends, but with a horizontal ground reference. The long long camera shots don’t do it justice as far as how fast it accelerates. if we could see the shuttle cameras, but with a background of, say, trees or buildings passing by as though you were on a train. So the speed would be much more apparent. Know what I mean?

  5. Diogenes

    Were the SRB cameras gimbaled? After separation they had a number of shots of the other booster held in frame. Pretty deft camera work from a platform that is moving at 2800mph and tumbling erratically. For me one of the most interesting bits is around 270 seconds in when there is a wailing groan, either from cooling metal or escaping gases, although the transonic phase around 42 seconds is pretty cool, too.

  6. mike I

    @Blargh – enhanced as reduced the ambient noise to really be able to hear the sound from the SRB system.

  7. MikeR

    Buckley Says:
    Two questions, if you have the chance to answer these:
    What did the SRB jettison just before splashdown?
    And what is that black spot/structure on the horizon near where the second SRB heads to splashdown?

    The SRB jettisons its nosecone just before splashdown to release the parachutes and flotation devices – so that’s probably what you’re seeing there.

    As for the structure on the horizon – could it be one of the SRB recovery ships?

    BTW. An epic video. I hope there will be similar quality footage from orbiters and external tanks alike.

  8. zeke

    @Buckley – “What did the SRB jettison just before splashdown?”

    The motor nozzle extension, otherwise it would damage the SRB Auxiliary Power Unit.

    As to your other question, I don’t know what you’re referring to. Perhaps you should give the elapsed time period in the clip when you see this?

    @Diogenes: The cameras are fixed.

    Now you know what those rings or ribs that encircle the SRB aft casings are for: they’re there to resist the water hammer effect at splashdown (7:23-7:24). Otherwise, the converging return of the seawater would crush the casings.

  9. Markus

    Nice work, but unfortunately this “sound enhancement” actually removed some of the interesting details you could normally hear particularly during ascent. And that’s nowhere near the most pronounced moaning and howling during SRB descent that I remember.

    And, Phil, the acceleration increases not simply because the stack gets lighter the more fuel it has burnt. Thrust from the SRBs is of course (very) roughly constant, but as you certainly know, the SSMEs throttle down to about 70% and then back up to 104% rated performance. While the SRBs are still part of the stack, the airspeed readout in the video of course reflects that. (Or at least it should – there are some jumps in the timecode.)

  10. Note to all: All of the cameras used in these views are (were) standard broadcast-quality NTSC video cameras, not HD. (My firm supplies the two aft-looking SRB cameras; United Space Alliance, SRB integrating contractor, provided the forward- and inward-looking views.)

    The video looks HD-like because it was recorded/stored onboard each SRB and recovered post-splashdown after the SRBs had been retrieved and towed back to port. The video is low-noise because it was not broadcast across an RF link like most NTSC we’re used to viewing.

    The ambient sounds comes from the inward-looking cameras, which are basically ruggedized camcorders — with a microphone.

    Enjoy over 125 more RocketCam video clips at our YouTube channel: RocketCambyEcliptic.

  11. @zeke: The black shape on the horizon is visible from 7:40 through the end of clip, and is visually near the intersection of the horizon and the other SRB descent path. If it was a recovery vehicle, then they sure like to cut it close.
    Also, thanks for the info regarding the nozzle extension jettison.

  12. Blargh

    @ mike I:
    Thanks! One never knows when a George Lucas-owned company is involved. They could’ve added some computer-generated sounds to fit with their “original vision” of the space shuttle, in which the SRBs fired first. 😉

  13. Benjamin

    “until the main engine runs out of gas and detaches”? I would rephrase it like this:
    “until the 3 main engines run out of gas and the external tank detaches”.

  14. Benjamin

    @Blargh: If they do a “SRBs shot first” thing, then I’ll know it’s fake. The Main Engines fire 6 seconds before the SRBs.

  15. Mr. Dave

    What a ride! Let’s do it again!

  16. Wzrd1

    @11, Buckley, looks like two ships. They’re quite a distance from the splashdown site.

  17. Number 6

    Fantastic video!…absolutely fascinating!….When riding the booster down, it sometimes had the feel of the Slim Pickens scene in Dr. Stranglove — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ueuauKKjPZI

  18. James Dawson

    Some of the original sound could not be used because camera microphone in SRB cannot handle the extreme sound presure levels which results in a extreme amount of distortion, some of which is still obviously audible. There probably have been quite a few different SRB recordings with sound over the years, this video utilized only two launches worth of SRB audio. Most of the SRB launch audio has been lost or deleted over the years. I think the team did a great job retaining the original elements and still making it audible for most of the viewers.

  19. Justin

    Cool! Sound design and mixing by Benny Burtt, son of the great Ben Burtt who gave us Wookie howls and gurgling, face-melting Nazis!

  20. KAE

    I like how you didn’t use the past tense to describe a shuttle launch. It would have been sad to read it the “correct” way.

  21. Joseph

    Very awesome.

    A mildly disturbing thought: From 04:00 on ward, this is as close as we are likely to know, at this time, what it is like to be on an out of control reentry platform. This should be used to affect on a movie at some point. It would be creepy.

  22. Jeremy Bee

    Minor correction: The Shuttle’s main engine never “runs out of gas and detaches.” The tank runs out of gas and detaches but the engine stays on the shuttle.

  23. Jeremy Bee (24): Fair enough. That was a … well, not a typo, but a slip of the tongue, whatever you’d call that while typing. I fixed it. :)

  24. RobinMD

    hey, just wondering if anyone knows…was the solid fuel inside the SRB’s shaped so it could produce a variable thrust (based on the time profile of the burn) and thus aid in the throttle down at max-Q (or wherever variations in thrust might be needed)? Or was it a constant thrust burn on the SRB’s? Also, are the SRB’s steerable…were the nozzles able to gimbal at all?

  25. ND

    The noise from the SRBs during their descent was nice and spooky. I particularly liked the shots with the other SRB in view and trailing smoke. But the most dramatic has to be the shot looking from bottom of the SRB up towards the shuttle during separation.

    zeke, thanks for the info on the SRB. There are so many small but important details to a launch system.

  26. Jeffersonian

    I was surprised the other booster landed so close by. I figured that there’d be a dispersion effect of a few miles.

  27. Question: the slowing down to about 300 mph, before parachutes, is due only to atmospheric drag on the booster body or is there some drag chute intervening before main parachutes? Seems like a lot of negative g’s to me.

  28. Edit: worst deceleration seems to be 200 mph in 3 seconds, about 40g if I am not mistaken.

  29. Phil Resnick

    Are we seeing the compression wave(s) from breaking the sound barrier between 700mph and 800mph during the ascent?

  30. #39, broadly speaking, yes. It’s the Prandtl–Glauert singularity, to be precise.

  31. Lars Bruchmann

    First time I heard the ascent, separation and descent was a few years ago. Being the geek I am I had NASA TV on the DirecTV downstairs and was upstairs on the internet. I could not figure out what those crazy sounds were since I had no idea what was on the TV. When I rewound the TiVo I was amazed at the footage and audio. In response to the question about the solid propellant in the SRBs. The thrust varies in accordance with the ascent profile. The solid/rubber like material is cast in various shapes inside the SRBs, it burns from the inside out along the entire length, not from the bottom up. Parts of the propellant are star-shaped to increase the surface area and provide more thrust. But it is not controllable during flight, nor can they be turned off. I love that they fire the hold-down bolts BEFORE the SRBs ignite. That is trust! Awesome video Phil, as always.


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