Effects of shoulder-fired missiles

Would I be correct in assuming that a shoulder-fired missile is mostly dangerous only to aircraft that small, turbine powered, and carry liquid fuel?

Was wondering the other day if there’s any possibility of a terrorist attacking the space shuttle during landing. I came to the conclusion that since it is massive, carries no fuel, and has no turbines that could disintegrate, a stinger-type missile would be little more than an annoyance. Well, unless it hit the crew compartment, rudder, ailerons, or drag chute.

It would be a nuisance, but having seen the space shuttle up close (VERY close), it’s so massive I doubt if it would be destroyed unless it was a very lucky shot.

It would be far more of a problem if someone hit the shuttle during launch, as it would then be nearly impossible to return the craft to earth safely.

Also, the attractiveness of destroying the shuttle has to be almost zero. It wouldn’t knock out any infrasructure. We’d lose some good people, and a nice machine, but it wouldn’t affect the country as a whole that adversly. Americans have extremely short attention- OOOOH shiny!

Well, it would be a big symbolic target. Symbols are important. Or at least they provoke large non-symbolic responses. I mean, look at the world trade centers… couple of blocky pieces of commercial real estate, elevated almost to nearly divine status.

But I digress, thanks for confirming what I thought. Really I was trying to generalize beyond the space shuttle… thinking that the igniting of fuel and disintegration of the turbine is really what makes these missile dangerous.

The warhead of a shoulder-launched missile is something like a very advanced hand grenade. Small, but using flechettes or self-forming fragments. Such a warhead does not destroy an airplane directly. rather it causes a something like a car accident, which at very high speed an aircraft cannot always survive.

I don’t know. I’d think it would be effective both as a target and at knocking it down.
Even a small bit of damage on the heat shield could have catastrophic results on re entry.
As for the shuttle as a target, it would make the US government a lot more hesitant to continue manned space programs. Personally I think that would be bad in the long term, given how other countries (such as China and Japan) are aggressively pursuing such programs. That plus the symbolism involved. After all, the US has been leading Space exploration for years, shooting down such a visible symbol of the US space program is bound to have an effect.

rabbit, by the time the shuttle was in range of a shoulder fired missile or LAW, it would be well into the atmosphere.

We’re talking about a max range of 2-3 miles, and the space shuttle travels at tremendous speed:

from http://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/9-12/features/F_Aeronautics_of_Space_Shuttle.html

The likelihood of hitting the shuttle with a LAW is very slim unless you were standing on the runway looking directly at it as it landed… and I don’t think anyone’s ever gonna have that opportunity (I sure hope not).

What speed does the shuttle travel at when it’s making its approach? I’ve fired a few Javelin (old British crap) missiles at stationary targets 5km off and missed those, so I imagine a shuttle would be fairly hard to hit.


dude, look up

IIRC, the shuttle’s tanks are not completely empty when it lands. There’s not enough fuel left in the tanks to really do much of anything (the shuttle’s powered by fuel cells which use hydrogen and LOX), but the odds of someone managing to be lucky enough to get a shot off that hits one of those vital areas are slim to none.

Still, hitting the shuttle could cause all kinds of problems, depending upon where it got hit. Take out the right control surfaces, or enough of one of the wings, and the shuttle’s a goner.

A hit to the tail could puncture a fuel tank in the OMS pods, leading to a leak of flammable, toxic fuel. That would probably require an emergency evacuation of the shuttle on landing, assuming it made it to the runway at all. Or it could damage the APU or its fuel system, also located near the tail, leading to a loss of hydraulic pressure for the flight control surfaces. A puncture in the belly of the shuttle could hit the cryogenic oxygen or hydrogen tanks, leading to a fire or explosion there, or a loss of power from one or more of the fuel cells fed by them. Damage to the reentry shielding won’t matter by the time the shuttle is in missile range, since by then it’s already past the dangerous part of reentry, but enough physical damage to the aerodynamic surfaces could create drag or impair controllability enough that the shuttle wouldn’t reach the runway. It’s a glider, and there’s not much room to diverge from the planned flight path before it doesn’t make it. A hit on a landing gear door could damage the tires or jam the gear mechanism, and the shuttle isn’t designed to survive a landing with any gear retracted or wheel-less. And of course, a missile hit on the crew cabin could injure or kill crewmembers or damage the flight control computers.

I suspect that it would be very difficult to hit a landing shuttle with a shoulder-fired missile. For most of its reentry, it’s far too high and going far too fast. IIRC, the approach to the runway is taken steep and fast, so it’ll probably only be in missile range for a very short period of time before landing. You’d have to be in just the right spot, near the runway, to pull it off.

The extreme speed is actually what I thought might make it possible. The kinetic energy of even small amounts of shrapnel would become more effective because of the energy at those speeds. I figure it would be a very difficult shot, but think about it. Its a totally unchangable trajectory and 2-3 miles is still 2-3 miles. Are you saying that someone wouldn’t be able to calculate how to get an intercept given you’d have almost all the information you need? You have speed, direction, times, everything you need to work out where that craft will be and you have access to all weather parameters.
At the speeds its coming in at, how much time would they have to correct or regain stability from even a small disruption or loss of control? Specially with only a couple miles to do it in.

Is it likely? Doubt it. It WOULD be a difficult set up and by no means guaranteed (extended missle range to give you a longer targeting time or perhaps a bigger warhead allowing for effective near misses might increase your odds though).
Im just saying that it is do-able and it would be a good symbolic target.

You could use a manually-sighted rocket, but since the shuttle is just coming down off reentry, you’d probably want something heat-seeking like a Stinger. Of course I don’t know anything about their targeting resolution; it’s possible that it would lock on the heat shielding along the belly, which would probably be the strongest spot on the shuttle.

Given the enormous amount of exhaust gasses from the rocket engine, would the missile be deflected away from the target? :confused:

The thing that occurs to me is that if if all the information you need to plot an intercept is widely available, it’s equally easy for law enforcement to plot out all the best launching points and keep an eye on them for anyone wandering around with telescopes strapped to their backs.

The OP is asking about someone firing a missile at the shuttle as it glides into landing, during which time it is an unpowered glider. No rockets operating at the time. Launching a missile at the shuttle during takeoff would be a different matter entierly.

Are we looking at a RPG, Blowpipe, Javelin, SAM-7, or what?

I think only option is to use MANPADS (MAN Portable Air Defense System, e.g. Stinger). No LAW, RPG or even Javelin have much chance of hitting space shuttle, unless stationary on ground.

Attack during take-off is almost impossible to perform, althought theoretically deadly. You need to be very close do take-off site, which is not easy thing. And you have just a few seconds to fire, before starting shuttle say buh-bye and exceed any reasonable range of that puny, llittle rocket from your launcher.

Attack during landing is much easier, but probably not so lethal. Spacee shuttle cannot take any counter-maneuvre (sp?) to avoid being hit, but being hit by 2 or 3 kg of fragmentation charge shouldn’t do much damage. Unless it hit control surfaces, as tuckerfan pointed out, or landing gear causing shuttle to crash during landing, it can’t do much. There is no fuel tanks to ignite nor engines to fail.

Ummm…the landing site is waaaay out in the middle of nowhere, on a guarded military base.
How is that easier?

At least at blast-off, there are places you can watch it from.

Personally, I think a 20 mm autocannon, mounted in the back of a pickup truck, would have the best chance of success, if used at liftoff.
The launch pad is several miles from the perimeter, so most shoulder-launched systems would lack the range. The cannon might have the moxie.

BTW–when living in Florida, I visited the launch area, & I have been over the ground.

That’s only if it lands at Edwards, it can and has landed at Kennedy (indeed, that’s the preferred landing spot), and you can go observe the landings, as I’ve friends who’ve done it. I’ve even walked the runway (obviously not when a shuttle was coming in).

Or maybe a 37mm Hotchkiss cannon.