During the Space Shuttle Program, the Flight Dynamics Officer was responsible for the selection of Shuttle Landing sites for a variety of scenarios including nominal End-of-Mission (EOM), various Ascent Abort scenarios (Trans-Atlantic Abort Landing – TAL and Abort-Once-Around – AOA), and other potential emergency landing scenarios. 

In coordination with the Landing Support Officer (LSO), worldwide runway complexes, that met basic requirements of runway length and navigational aids, were compiled into a list of potential Shuttle landing sites. Current mission requirements, Shuttle trajectories, and weather reports from around the world were combined to select the best landing opportunity in real-time. These landing sites were loaded into the FDO’s Deorbit Opportunities Processor (DOPS), which provided an at-a-glance view of upcoming landing opportunities.

The (admittedly rough by today’s standards) map graphics you see below were generated by the LSOs during the mid-1990s using the technology at hand. Obviously, more modern mapping capabilities would make these look so much better, but -THE TRENCH- will continue to provide these maps as an archive of how it was done in the Mission Control Center during the Space Shuttle Program of the 1980s and 1990s.

World Map

In this graphic, all world-wide designated Space Shuttle Landing Sites are identified. The sites in the two blue boxes are defined in the other two images below.

These sites included Primary Landing Site (PLS) as well as Emergency Landing Site (ELS) choices.

The three PLS sites were EDW – Edwards Air Force Base, NOR – Northrup, White Sands Space Harbor, and KSC – Kennedy Space Center.

ELS sites ranged from those also used for Trans-Atlantic Abort Landing (TAL) sites as well as true “Emergency” sites (Hao Atoll and Easter Island in the South Pacific). Hao and Easter Island had originally intended as “TAL” sites for launches planned from Vandenberg.

CONUS Map

In this graphic, sites in the Eastern Continental United States (CONUS) are displayed.

The details in this map show the sites up the coast of the Eastern United States. This was used, primarily, to outline the possible “intact abort” sites during high-inclination Space Shuttle launches.

Kennedy (KSC) was, of course, the launch facility, but was also the Return-to-Launch-Site (RTLS) abort landing site. RTLS was a very dangerous, and thankfully never executed, abort scenario. It was simulated many many times, however, and had the crew and the MCC needed to perform it, they were ready.

Sites up the East Coast were all on high-alert during a launch that might have needed them at a moment’s notice.

Europe and Africa Map

In this final graphic, sites in Europe and Northern Africa are displayed.

The primary role of the sites in Europe and Northern Africa were to support Day-of-Launch (DOL) Abort landings.

The selection of the sites were specific to the launch inclination. More easterly launches (28.5 degree inclination) would have resulted in lower latitude potential abort landings, while the Mir/ISS launches (51.6 degree inclination) and higher would have engaged more of the northern/European sites.

Post-launch, these sites were also kept on hold for potential ELS opportunities.

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8 Comments

  1. Ceth

    Cool!

    Reply
  2. Eric

    Hey! This is really great. I found your site from a link on simpleflying.com. Thanks for this info.

    Reply
  3. Chris Ahart

    When I was stationed at Kadena Air Base Okinawa from 79 to 81 we were designated as a abort destination .
    I worked in Central Security Control and we had charts and maps on the wall to advise Security where the shuttle would be parked, perimeter control and access etc.

    Reply
    • Roger Balettie

      Hi Chris! Thanks for adding that cool bit of Shuttle history… and yes, there were a number of 12Kft runways around the world that could have been used for those contingency landings.

      The sites that I have listed on this page were ones that were actively supported during certain mission timeframes with dedicated personnel. Not every one of the 12Kft runways around the world met that criteria, although we certainly *would* have used (for instance) Kadena if it were our best option – even if we didn’t have real-time personnel there to meet the Orbiter!

      Reply
  4. Joe Williams

    Hi I was told that filton air field in Bristol was the back up to RAF Fairfield if the shuttle over shot it’s mark

    Reply
    • Roger Balettie

      Hi Joe! RAF Filton, being only 8Kft in length, would never have been a *planned* Shuttle runway. We never planned on anything less than 12Kft as a rule, with Fairford being one of the exceptions (10Kft) because of lack of options. However, if it were a “really bad day” and the energy situation (velocity and altitude, including rates) were so low as to not have any options, it would be any visual option available.

      Reply
  5. Neil

    I’m an Air Traffic Controller at Shannon ACC (en route control centre just down the road from Shannon Airport). In the Boardroom at work we have an Irish flag which flew in space aboard Discovery in 2008, presented by NASA as thanks for the unit’s support of the Shuttle program[me]

    Reply
    • Roger Balettie

      Hi Neil – that’s a fantastic memento and deserved recognition. Thank you for your and your unit’s support. The Shuttle Program was truly a worldwide team effort!

      Reply

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