Effects of shoulder-fired missiles

I dunno, I think that even a small bit of metal hitting the shuttle during re entry would be more than sufficient. Look what a piece of foam did.

Keep in mind, as has been mentioned, the thing cant evade.
At the speeds coming in, if you can create enough disturbance (either a shockwave or damage to control surface) to make it loose control even slightly odds are pretty good you’d cause a crash. No way it would be able to recover from 2 to 3 miles from landing.
As for hitting it, I still think that it should be possible to set up a targeting solution where the shuttle more or less hits the rocket. That is, you set up a solution that puts the rocket and the shuttle in the same place. Again, you have the pertinent information to do this and its not like it would take a powerful computer to calculate. Heck you could probably set up some automated computer controlled frame to fire the thing if you really wanted to be fancy. (Although I still think that a couple dudes firing at the same time would work better).

Oh wait… just thoguht of something… at the ranges that a man portable missle operates (so, what was it, 2-3 miles from surface?) what speed is the Shuttle travelling at? Cause if it’s slowed down enough then my theory gets shot to hell.

See post #6.

As mentioned you can pretty much forget about tagging the Shuttle with a Stinger during launch. First of the perimeter where the public is allowed is very far away from the launch pad and chances of anyone getting close enough to the shuttle to shoot it while toting around a Stinger missile are slim to none.

Secondly I used to wonder if a plane with, say, a sidewinder in the vicinity of a nuclear missile launch could shoot down the nuke. Interested I looked for info (forget where now unfortunately) and eventually found the answer was it would be close to impossible for a plane to hit a nuke with an air-to-air missile. Nukes (and the shuttle) look like they lumber slowly off the ground but in fact they accelerate quite quickly and unless you were very close to the thing at launch and shot right away chances of getting a hit are slim to none. The shuttle accelerates at something like 29 m/s[sup]2[/sup] so you only have a few seconds post launch to shoot if you hope for the stinger to be able to catch it. Not to mention if you were next to the launch pad of the shuttle at launch you’ll probably get fried.

Also, as earlier suggested, if a stinger was trying to fly up the tail pipes of a launching shuttle I would think the rocket exhaust would overwhelm the ability of the missile to close and stay on target. That’s just a guess though.

Remember that the damage from the foam occurred on launch, and the Shuttle had to go through the hottest part of reentry (where the air around it becomes incandescent, and hot enough to cut through metal) with that foam damage. If you do the damage after the high-altitude portion of reentry, you’re not going to see any real result.

Put differently, it wasn’t the damage from the foam that crashed the shuttle; the damage from the foam combined with the heat of reentry caused the shuttle to lose control while moving at Mach 15+ through a cloud of white-hot atmosphere. Once it tumbled, it broke up within seconds.

The OP is theorizing an attack after reentry, where you need to get a much more robust hit to achieve a kill.

You’ve got to be sure to hit the control surfaces (on the back) rather than the leading or bottom surfaces, which have ablative material that would stop damn near anything you throw at them. This is going to be very tough, because the most resilient surfaces are the ones giving off the most heat. You might get lucky and frag a landing-gear bay, which might cause a rough landing and some broken bones - maybe even one or two deaths - but you’re just not going to be able to reliably shoot the Shuttle out of the sky. It’s a big hunk of steel moving very quickly, and will plow through MANPADS fire pretty reliably.

It’s relatively easy to find anecdotes of large, slow Air Force cargo planes in Iraq surviving MANPADS attacks. If you don’t hit the engine or the fuel tanks on a cargo plane, you don’t really do anything other than send the owner a nasty repair bill, and freak out the pilot. I think with the Shuttle it would be basically the same thing.

Discovery has a dry mass of ~78,500kg, which is not much more than the maximum takeoff weight of the C-130 cargo aircraft. Since Discovery doesn’t have engines or fuel tanks to speak of on reentry, I think the OP is right – knocking it out of the sky is tough.

Of course, now I’m wondering how many people from HS are watching this thread as “suspicious” lol.

I also wondering if maybe we aren’t raising a legitimate issue tho about the design of future space craft.

It’s more suited to GD, tho…

Perhaps, then, the best weapon for the launch period would be a high-velocity rifle - try and puncture the tank or boosters.

I’ve seen pictures where an Airbus was hit, and I’m almost certain it was an engine that was hit.

But this is exactly what I mean. The craft is descending. The tiles in particular (or so Im led to understand) can be knocked off or skewed.
This can create instability which, given that it can’t really maneuver in atmosphere very well and the relatively low altitude at which a missle attack would take place, could conseivably knock a shuttle out of the air.
A transport is designed to handle a lot of damage. Aircraft are designed to function with major damage. A multi engine plane, for example, has to be able to fly (for at least a limited period) with one or more engines inoperational (depending on how many engines it has to begin with). The shuttle isnt an airplane in the traditional sence. At best its a glider with severly limited capabilities.

I don’t think so… the shuttle loses a few tiles on every mission. The loss of heat tiles is not aerodynamically significant unless you lost massive amounts on one side. The reason Columbia broke up wasn’t because tiles were lost, it’s because there was a gaping hole in the leading edge of the wing and the craft could no longer orient itself properly with the heat shield facing into the direction of descent. After the re-entry phase, a hole like that probably would not render the craft unsheerable.

But a big part of the missile threat is due to turbine-driven engines, which the shuttle doesn’t have. As I understand, air-to-air missiles are tuned to explode in a shower of shrapnel just forward of the jet intake because the breakup of a turbine running at high RPM is like a bomb in its own respect.

A Stinger missile as a 2 lb warhead. It is designed to explode into an incoming engine and damage it, forcing the aircraft to ground. They are intended as handheld (or light vehicle mounted) surface-to-air missiles to bring down ground attach craft, like slow-moving jets (think the A7 Intruder or the A10 Warthog) and helicopter gunships.

A Stinger, or similiar missile, fired an a reentering Shuttle would be about as effective as a mesquito, unless it, by random chance, happened to hit a control surface in just the right way to cause a failure that the software couldn’t compensate for. It would do no appreciable structural damage in and of itself. (At the altitude that a Stinger could hit the Shuttle, the protective tiles and carbon-carbon leading caps would be of no consequence.)

If fired during launch, I’d have to check the numbers, but I don’t think a Stinger could even catch up with the Shuttle by the time it has cleared the gantry. It seems, due to its size, to be moving awfully slow, but it is actually moving quite quickly once it gets going.

The Shuttle is a furgin’ brick. The Columbia failed on reentry not because of excessive stresses but because the wing structure was essentially cut with a blowtorch of superheated air through the gap left by the broken cap. Hitting in the underside with a 2.2 lb explosive charge would do only superficial damage.


If you put a hole in one of the SRBs that wasn’t noticed before takeoff, you could cause a Challenger redux. Of course, there’s probably a checklist somewhere that says “Ensure a maximum of one large hole in each solid rocket booster. Verify that large hole is pointed down.”

In fact, I thought I remembered reading that the SRB nozzles are sealed airtight with styrofoam once assembled, and an inert gas is pumped into the booster. If that’s the case, a pressure sensor in each SRB would detect a leak. An array of cheap oxygen sensors could even detect where the leak was.

Popping the hydrogen tank could probably cause a mess, too. Hydrogen boiling through a small hole into atmosphere makes an invisible spear that can cut aluminum (and steel?) like butter. The timing on that one would be tougher, because if you do it too early, all you do is ground that Orbiter and guarantee yourself a manhunt in the Florida swamps. Eglin AFB is about a two-hour helicopter flight from the Cape, and they’ve got Special Ops guys there who would love to hunt down a Shuttle Sniper. :smiley:

Columbia was able to remain flying stable with a suprising amount of damage to the wing - there were chunks large enough to be visible from the ground coming off the wing for several minutes before it actually tumbled and broke up, but the flight computers were able to compensate and keep it flying straight. It didn’t lose control until the wing heated enough for the aluminum structure to start metling, causing the wing surface to deform. A stinger-sized hole in the wing made after the shuttle has slowed to subsonic speed isn’t going to make it crash.

The more I think about it, the more unlikely bringing down a landing shuttle with a shoulder-fired missile seems. There are quite a few parts of the shuttle that could cause catastrophic results if hit (OMS fuel tanks, the APU turbines and pumps, the APU fuel tanks, cryo hydrogen and oxygen tanks, fuel cells, flight computers, landing gear) but they’re all small targets buried behind heat shielding, structure, and insulation. A heat-seeking missile is probably going to hit the nose, wing leading edge, or wing underside, which will mean an expensive repair job but shouldn’t make the shuttle miss the runway.

Your theory gets shot to hell. The hot and dangerous part of re-entry, where the Shuttle slows down from several thousand mph to a few hundred, takes place high in the atmosphere. Snowboarder Bo’s link is worth a read - the Shuttle is down to mach 1 at a height of 10 miles - 50,000 ft.