Space Shuttle Challenger Remembered

Because of the low production volume of orbiters, the Space Shuttle program decided to build a vehicle as a Structural Test Article, STA-099, that could later be converted to a flight vehicle. The contract for STA-099 was awarded to North American Rockwell on July 26, 1972, and construction was completed in February 1978. After STA-099’s rollout, it was sent to a Lockheed test site in Palmdale, where it spent over 11 months in vibration tests designed to simulate entire shuttle flights, from launch to landing. To prevent damage during structural testing, qualification tests were performed to a safety factor of 1. 2 times the design limit loads. The qualification tests were used to validate computational models, and compliance with the required 1. 4 factor of safety was shown by analysis. STA-099 was essentially a complete airframe of a Space Shuttle orbiter, with only a mockup crew module installed and thermal insulation placed on its forward fuselage.

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