Encyclopedia Astronautica
Shuttle Super Lightweight Tank


Lox/LH2 propellant rocket stage. Loaded/empty mass 748,000/27,000 kg. Thrust 6,834.30 kN. Vacuum specific impulse 452.5 seconds. The Super Lightweight Tank used 2195 Aluminium-Lithium alloy as the main structural material in place of the 2219 aluminium alloy of the original design. This saved 3,500 kg in empty mass, increasing shuttle payload by the same amount. This change was made in anticipation of Shuttle-Mir and Shuttle-ISS flights to high inclination 51.6 degree orbits. The tank was first used on STS-91 in June 1998.

AKA: Super Lightweight External Tank.
Status: In production.
Gross mass: 748,000 kg (1,649,000 lb).
Unfuelled mass: 27,000 kg (59,000 lb).
Height: 47.00 m (154.00 ft).
Diameter: 8.40 m (27.50 ft).
Span: 8.70 m (28.50 ft).
Thrust: 6,834.30 kN (1,536,412 lbf).
Specific impulse: 453 s.
Specific impulse sea level: 361 s.
Burn time: 522 s.

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Associated Countries
Associated Engines
  • None Indicates that the stage shown is a propellant tank. The engine on another stage is drawing propellants from this tank. Performance shown is for that of the engine on the other stage. First flight 1964. More...

Associated Launch Vehicles
  • Shuttle ISS American winged orbital launch vehicle. Redesign of the shuttle with reliability in mind after the Challenger disaster reduced maximum payload to low earth orbit from 27,850 kg to 24,400 kg. When the decision was made to move the International Space Station to a high-inclination 51.6 degree orbit, net payload to the more challenging orbit dropped to unacceptable limits. The situation was improved by introduction of the Super Lightweight External Tank, which used 2195 Aluminium-Lithium alloy as the main structural material in place of the 2219 aluminium alloy of the original design. This saved 3,500 kg in empty mass, increasing shuttle payload by the same amount. The tank was first used on STS-91 in June 1998. More...

Associated Propellants
  • Lox/LH2 Liquid oxygen was the earliest, cheapest, safest, and eventually the preferred oxidiser for large space launchers. Its main drawback is that it is moderately cryogenic, and therefore not suitable for military uses where storage of the fuelled missile and quick launch are required. Liquid hydrogen was identified by all the leading rocket visionaries as the theoretically ideal rocket fuel. It had big drawbacks, however - it was highly cryogenic, and it had a very low density, making for large tanks. The United States mastered hydrogen technology for the highly classified Lockheed CL-400 Suntan reconnaissance aircraft in the mid-1950's. The technology was transferred to the Centaur rocket stage program, and by the mid-1960's the United States was flying the Centaur and Saturn upper stages using the fuel. It was adopted for the core of the space shuttle, and Centaur stages still fly today. More...

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