Springer Online Journal Archives 1860-2000
Abstract Shock waves generated by the space shuttles Columbia (August 13, 1989), Atlantis (April 11, 1991) and Discovery (September 18, 1991) on their return to Edwards Air Force Base, California, were recorded by TERRAscope (Caltech's broadband seismic network), the Caltech-U.S.G.S Southern California Seismic Network (SCSN), and the University of Southern California (USC) Los Angeles Basin Seismic Network. The spatial pattern of the arrival times exhibits hyperbolic shock fronts from which the path, velocity and altitude of the space shuttle could be determined. The shock wave was acoustically coupled to the ground, converted to a seismic wave, and recorded clearly at the broadband TERRAscope stations. The acoustic coupling occurred very differently depending on the conditions of the Earth's surface surrounding the station. For a seismic station located on hard bedrock, the shock wave (N wave) was clearly recorded with little distortion. Aside from the N wave, very little acoustic coupling of the shock wave energy to the ground occurred at these sites. The observed N wave record was used to estimate the overpressure of the shock wave accurately; a pressure change of 0.5 to 2.2 mbars was obtained. For a seismic station located close to the ocean or soft sedimentary basins, a significant amount of shock wave energy was transferred to the ground through acoustic coupling of the shock wave and the oceanic Rayleigh wave. A distinct topography such as a mountain range was found effective to couple the shock wave energy to the ground. Shock wave energy was also coupled to the ground very effectively through large man made structures such as high rise buildings and offshore oil drilling platforms. For the space shuttle Columbia, in particular, a distinct pulse having a period of about 2 to 3 seconds was observed, 12.5 s before the shock wave, with a broadband seismograph in Pasadena. This pulse was probably excited by the high rise buildings in downtown Los Angeles which were simultaneously hit by the space shuttle shock waves. The proximity of the natural periods of the high rise buildings and the modal periods of the Los Angeles basin enabled efficient energy transfer from shock wave to seismic wave.
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