Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver

The Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver (RPM ) is a since STS -114 in July 2005 by the U.S. Space Shuttle practiced maneuvers to check the heat shield for damage. This maneuver has since performed at each shuttle mission to the International Space Station prior to docking with the station.


The RPM is a maneuver in which the underside of the space shuttle in the direction of the ISS is rotated so that the local crew to photograph the heat shield with high quality digital cameras, thereby any damage that may have been overlooked in the preliminary study, the orbiter boom sensor system to discover.

Prerequisite for this maneuver is a precise approach from below to the ISS, so that the sunlight can illuminate the underside of the orbiter when it is directed to the station. The maneuver must be performed close to the station so that the cameras can guarantee the required precision shooting aboard the station. This requires special skills aviator pilot of this maneuver. For this reason, most of the RPMs have been flown by the shuttle commander held by the pilot, because this has to have the greater experience flying in space.

The flight maneuvers describes a 360 ° rotation of the orbiter and resembles a " step backwards ", so the maneuver often also carries this name. It is carried out usually at about 180 meters from the station. This maneuver must be flown very slowly so that the crew of the space station has the necessary time to photograph the underside of the shuttle. This makes the maneuver so difficult because it takes due to the slow rotation very long time to complete and the pilot the space station can not see, while the underside of the shuttle to the ISS shows. So he do not know if the shuttle approaches the station possibly in critical respects or whether it is so far away that the cameras in the station can no longer achieve the necessary precision shooting. He must position and movement of the shuttle so they can accurately estimate before the actual maneuver.

The first mission, in which the rendezvous pitch maneuver was performed, was STS -114, the first shuttle mission after the Columbia disaster. Was carried out the maneuver first of Shuttlekommandantin Eileen Collins on the Space Shuttle Discovery. Since then it has been performed at each mission to the ISS.

Was invented this maneuver by the NASA engineers Steve Walker, Mark Schrock and Jessica LoPresti. Necessary, this process was because repeatedly fell off parts of the foam insulation of the external tank during takeoff and collided with great force on the heat shield of the shuttle. The impact of such a part of foam material is so great that it can cause serious damage to the heat shield, as was the case with the Columbia disaster in February 2003.