I was under the impression it did, but looking at this photo, it looks like it is well into the atmosphere with no sign of burning up. And that photo must have been taken from a chase plane, it certainly doesn’t look like a view from the shuttle. Does it just crash into the ocean in one piece and sink?
I think it’s meant to break up and fall in the ocean, not burn up. The solid boosters are actually recovered from the ocean and have parachutes IIRC.
Actually, that was taken from the shuttle, looking down from 60-70 miles above the Indian Ocean. After jettisoning the tank, the shuttle was manuevered so that still and video images could be taken by the crew. At that point, both the external tank and orbiter were over 60 miles high, both moving about 16,000 miles per hour with respect to the ground. However, the relative velocity between the two was very small. Outside most of the atmosphere, both continue on identical parallel paths until the reaction control system thusters fire to slowly move the shuttle away from the tank; then the orbital maneuvering system (OMS) thrusters fire to put the shuttle into its final orbit. The empty tank falls away, hits the atmosphere, and does in fact burn up.
Its a weird looking photo. The tank must have been below the shuttle, with clouds in the background 50 to 100 miles below.
The tank breaks up and whats left of it crashes into the Indian Ocean.