Quarter-Scale Space Shuttle Test Article – A Summary

An extraordinary artifact from NASA’s Space Shuttle Program is coming home to Columbus, GA for permanent display. The Quarter-Scale Space Shuttle Test Article, a one-of-a-kind engineering prototype, has been awarded to Columbus State University’s Coca-Cola Space Science Center (CCSSC). As a prototype, this piece served a vital function in the development of America’s space program. As an artifact, it is an irreplaceable part of our nation’s heritage.

“Your model, the Shuttle Enterprise and Space Shuttles Atlantis, Discovery and Endeavour encompass the most extraordinary components of the Space Shuttle Program.” – Robert Sherouse, iTransition Manager, Office of Infrastructure, NASA HQ (In a communication with CCSSC – April 2014)

In the mid-1970's, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was developing its Space Transportation System (STS), better known today as the Space Shuttle. One of the most difficult engineering challenges was that this complex, reusable system could not be flown for test purposes without astronaut pilots at the controls. This circumstance created the dangerous reality that the first time the space shuttle flew, humans would be onboard. Therefore, for safety considerations, this spacecraft required a much more intensive period of modeling and prototyping than any other spacecraft in history. A series of prototypes were constructed for performing wind tunnel and vibration tests that facilitated the verification of the numerical modeling on the flight performance, stability and durability of the entire STS vehicle system.

The largest sub-scale prototype of the STS system ever constructed was a ¼-scale, high-fidelity engineering prototype, large enough to simulate effectively all of the primary structural elements and joints. This system featured a 30-foot orbiter with a 19.5-foot wingspan, a 38-foot long external tank with a 7-foot diameter, and two 37-foot long solid rocket boosters (SRB’s). When stacked vertically, the prototype stood over 48-feet tall in the test bay, the largest size possible given the limitations of available test facilities. The prototype could be tested in a variety of angles and configurations, including variable loading of the external tank and SRB’s, allowing replication of the most critical stages of the shuttle’s flight to space.

Data from testing using this prototype improved understanding of the orbiter flight control system, the pogo analyses, structural load predictions, flutter analyses, and the resonant frequencies of various Shuttle components and configurations. It served as a vital phase in the Shuttle design verification effort.

• Design and Fabrication: Rockwell International, Los Angeles Division – 1974

• Sub-Scale Testing Activities: 1976 – 1977

• Areas of Testing: Ground vibration testing, orbiter flight control systems, pogo analyses, structural load predictions, flutter analyses and verification of predicted dynamics of components individually and in mated configuration.

• Artifact Value: $9.35 Million (according to NASA documentation)


Imagine the unfulfilled potential if this artifact ended up at a non-university affiliated institution, as it has been for the last fourteen years! We have an opportunity to integrate this incredible $9.3 million artifact into Columbus State University's academic mission. This artifact will serve as the centerpiece icon for CSU's efforts to strengthen its STEM and Teacher Preparation programs. Displaying and interpreting this artifact for students and the public also will combine elements of History, Art, English, Communications and Music for a true STEAM experience.