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Buran Space Shuttle

The Russian Federation's only large-scale reusable space transportation system was the Buran space shuttle, flown only once in 1988 in an unmanned mode. The Buran orbiter was quite similar to the US Space Shuttle with a mass of 75 metric tons, a payload capacity of 30 metric tons, a length of 36.4 m, and a wing-span of 24 m. Like its American counterpart, Buran landed with delta wings on a runway. Unlike the US Space Shuttle, Buran did not carry main engines which are employed during lift-off, since this function was performed by the Energiya launch vehicle central stage. Without a crew, an automatic orbiter could carry extra payload. With a crew, such an automatic orbiter could land even if Shuttle pilots were incapacitated (e.g., by a depressurization accident).

In December 1981, Leonid Brezhnev signed on the day of his birth a resolution on measures to improve the organization of work on the Buran. The time for launching the flight test was the same as in 1983. The fact that the Secretary-General signed this decree on the day of his seventy-fifth birthday, Glushko often stressed during the speeches on the Council of the Chief. As it was supposed, with the release of the resolution, local measures began. Including in the OKB - the development of the orbital ship was transferred to the orbital control (then this powerful group of units was called "service number 17"). The service involved in the missile was number 16. Subdivisions, previously subordinated to Sadovsky, were taken from under the direct influence of the chief designer of Buran.

The Soviet counterpart to the U.S. Space Shuttle made its maiden flight on November 15, 1988. Lifted into space by an Energia booster (presently the world’s largest booster), the 100-ton shuttle named Buran (Snowstorm) remained aloft for two orbits of the Earth, some 3 hours and 25 minutes. The spacecraft is nearly identical in physical shape to that of its American cousin, but it does exhibit several key differences. The primary difference is that Buran lacks its own main engines, relying instead on propulsion provided by the Energia to place the shuttle craft into orbit. Buran also uses a set of small maneuvering thrusters to reach orbit and later deorbit.

Similarities between the U.S. and Soviet designs are striking. The delta wing, vertical tail structure, payload bay, window placement, as well as thermal protection patterns are common to both vehicles. Initial reaction from Western experts held that the identical profile of the two spacecraft had saved the Soviets years of development time and expense by copying U.S. plans. Soviet space engineers claim the similarity derives from the same mission objectives of both craft: ferrying people and payloads into Earth orbit and maneuvering from space to a runway landing.

Soviet reports state the Buran can place 66,000 pounds of payload into orbit and return from space with 44,000 pounds. ’s The Soviets claim that special-purpose missions using Buran can last up to 30 days. Eventually, four flights per year were envisioned using these shuttle vehicles.

In some respects, the Energia-Buran is more versatile than the U.S. Shuttle. For example, the Energia rocket can launch an orbiter, or it can be launched without an orbiter, in which case it can carry a payload weighing more than 220,000 pounds. It has four reusable first-stage boosters clustered around an expendable second (“core”) stage, which has four engines. First- and second stage engines are ignited on the launch pad, and, because all engines use liquid fuel, they can be shut down on the pad or in flight to abort a launch if one or more fails to achieve sufficient thrust. In some cases the orbiter may still reach orbit, even if an engine has been shutdown during flight. In any event, the vehicle is expected to maintain controlled flight to an emergency landing site if carrying crew, or to a place where it can ditch or crash without endangering people or structures.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the Soviet approach to winged space flight is the Soviet ability to use automated landing systems. Buran’s first flight was unpiloted and relied on ground controllers for on-orbit maneuvering, Buran then used onboard computers to carry out an automatic approach and landing at a special shuttle runway at Baikonur. Three parachutes slowed the shuttle vehicle to a stop.

With the demise of the Soviet Union, however, the Soviet Ministry of Defense realized that this system was expensive and without a firm rationale. In 1993 NPO Energia’s head, Yuri Semenov, publicly announced the end of the project.

During the early 1990's, a man rated Buran spacecraft was being prepared for flight. With the demise of the Soviet Union, however, the Soviet Ministry of Defense realized that this system was expensive and without a firm rationale. In 1993 NPO Energia’s head, Yuri Semenov, publicly announced the end of the project. Much of the remaining Buran hardware has been mothballed and is in storage at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

James Moltz, professor of national security at the Naval Postgraduate. School, commented that the “self-inflicted extreme cost of the. Buran/Energiya program did more to destabilize the Soviet economy than any response to the Reagan.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2018 13:25:01 ZULU