# How Fast Does The Space Shuttle Go

by on February 24, 2011

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Space shuttle Discovery heads to space after lifting off from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to begin its final flight to the International Space Station on the STS-133 mission. Launch was at 4:53 p.m. EST. Credit: NASA

How fast does the space shuttle go? That is a great question and there are multiple answers depending on the part of each mission you are talking about. Here is a quick breakdown of the shuttle’s speed at different times between launch and reentry.

It takes a great deal of thrust for the space shuttle to lift off. The total thrust at launch is about 3.5 million kilograms. The shuttle must accelerate from zero to a speed of almost 28,968 kph to get into orbit. Within eight seconds the engines and boosters accelerate the shuttle to 161 kph. After the first minute the shuttle is traveling more than 1,609 kph and has already consumed more than 680,000 kg of fuel. After about two minutes the shuttle is traveling more than 4,828 kph.

The shuttle must reach speeds of at least 28,000 kph to remain in orbit. The exact speed depends on the Shuttles orbital altitude. That altitude ranges from 304 km to 528 km above sea level, depending on the mission.

The shuttles reentry speed is dictated by the gravitational pull of the Earth, but the physics of reentry usually dictates an average speed of 7,744 m/s. The Shuttle has small rockets that can be fired to get it into position to maximize drag to slow itself down and allow the pilot to select the best trajectory and target(deorbit maneuver). Even with these factors taken into account, the distance from orbit to landing only allows the shuttle to decrease its speed by 91 m/s. The shuttle is traveling at about 435 kph just before it touches down.

As you can see there are several aspects to answering the question ‘how fast does the space shuttle go’. Hopefully, you found the answer you were looking for. If no, type your exact question into our search bar and go from there.

We have written many articles about the space shuttle for Universe Today. Here are some space shuttle pictures, and here’s an article about the Discovery space shuttle.

If you’d like more information on the shuttle, here’s a link to NASA’s Official space shuttle page, and here’s the homepage for NASA’s Human Spaceflight.

We’ve recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast all about the space shuttle. Listen here, Episode 127: The US Space Shuttle.

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