Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Soviet reusable spacecraft program Buran ("Бура́н" meaning "snowstorm" or "blizzard" in Russian) began in 1976 at TsAGI as a response to the United States Space Shuttle program. Soviet politicians were convinced that the Space Shuttle could be used for military purposes, hence posing a potential threat to the balance of power during the Cold War. The project was the largest and the most expensive in the history of Soviet space exploration.
Because Buran's debut followed Space Shuttle Columbia's and there were visual similarities between the two shuttle systems, during the Cold War many speculated that espionage played a role in the development of the Soviet shuttle. However, it is now known that while externally it was an aerodynamic copy of the Space Shuttle, internally it was all engineered and developed domestically.
Key differences with the NASA Space Shuttle
- Buran was designed to be capable of both manned and unmanned flight, it had automated landing capability; the manned version has never been operational
- The orbiter had no main rocket engines, freeing space and weight for additional payload; the largest cylindrical structure is the Energiya carrier-rocket, not just a fuel tank.
- There were four boosters instead of two, and they used liquid propellant (kerosene/oxygen)
- The Energiya carrier, including the main engines, was designed to be reusable but funding cuts meant that a reusable version of Energiya was never completed. The U.S. Space Shuttle has reuseable main engines in the orbiter and reusable Solid Rocket Boosters.
- Buran could lift 30 tonnes to orbit, against the Space Shuttle's 25 tonnes.
- The high lift-drag ratio of the space aeroplane Buran is 6.5 against 5.5 for Space Shuttle
- Buran returned 20 tonnes of payload against 15 tonnes for Space Shuttle orbiter from an orbit to an aerodrome
- The cutting lay-out pattern of thermoprotection tiles of Buran is optimal and longitudinal slits of tile belts are orthogonal to the flow line. Sharp angles of tiles are absent.
The development of the Buran began in the early 1970s as a response to the U.S. Space Shuttle program. While the Soviet engineers favored a smaller, lighter lifting body vehicle, the military leadership pushed for a direct, full scale copy of the delta wing Space Shuttle, in an effort to maintain the strategic parity between the superpowers.
The construction of the shuttles began in 1980 and by 1984 the first full-scale Buran was rolled out. The first suborbital test flight of a scale-model, however, took place as early as July 1983. As the project lasted, five additional scale-model flights were performed. With the first full-scale Buran, 24 test flights were performed after which the shuttle was "worn out".
The first and only orbital launch of the (unmanned) shuttle Buran 1.01 was at 3:00 UTC on 15 November 1988. It was lifted into orbit by the specially designed Energiya booster rocket. The life support system was not installed and no software was installed on the CRT displays.
The shuttle orbited the Earth twice before returning, performing an impressive automated landing on the shuttle runway at Baikonur Cosmodrome. The U.S shuttles landings are also mostly automated (there has only been one manually flown re-entry so far), but deployment of the landing gear requires a human to physically press the button. The manual step was added at the insistence of the astronauts, who claim that early deployment of the landing gear due to a computer error would be fatal. A premature deployment at many points in re-entry would destroy the shuttle in a fashion similar to the Space Shuttle Columbia.
Part of the launch was televised, but the actual lift-off was not shown. This led to some speculation that the mission may have been fabricated, and that the subsequent landing may not have been from orbit but from a shuttle-carrying aircraft. (Note that in the United States, this procedure was used to test the flight characteristics of the Space Shuttle on approach and landing using the Approach and Landing Test vehicle Space Shuttle Enterprise, so that by the time mission STS-1 drew to a close, the handling characteristics of Space Shuttle Columbia would be known.) However the launch video has now been released to the public confirming that the shuttle did lift-off, the poor weather conditions described by the Russian media at the time can be easily seen.
After the first flight the project was suspended due to lack of funds and the political situation in the Soviet Union. The two subsequent orbiters, which were due in 1990 (codename Ptichka - little bird) and 1992 respectively were never completed. The project was officially shut down in 1993.
The program was to have carried out research, national-pride, and technological objectives similar to those of the U.S. shuttle program, including resupply of the Mir space station, which was launched in 1986 and remained in service until 2001. When Mir was finally visited by a spaceplane, the visitor was an American shuttle — not Buran.
The completed shuttles 1.01 and 1.02 ('Ptichka'), and the remains of the project are now property of Kazakhstan. In 2002, the hangar housing the sole space-flown Buran 1.01 orbiter and a mockup of the Energiya booster rocket collapsed due to incomplete maintenance, destroying the vehicle. Eight workers were also killed in the collapse of the building's roof.
Burans 2.01 and 2.02 (This second series had a modified flight-deck design) never left the Tushino factory and remain there in poor condition. Parts from these vehicles are being sold on the Internet.
The partially built Buran 2.03 was dismantled when the programme was closed, and no longer exists.
As well as the five 'production' Burans, there were eight test vehicles. These were used for static testing or atmospheric trials, and some were merely mock-ups for testing of electrical fittings, crew procedures, etc.
Serial numbers and current status
- OK-M (later OK-ML-1) - Static Test - Now at Baikonur Cosmodrome
- OK-GLI - Aero Test
- OK-KS - Static Electrical/Integration Test - Now at the Energia factory in Korolev
- OK-MT - Engineering Mock-up - Now at Baikonur Cosmodrome
- OK-??? - Static Test - Status unknown
- OK-TVI - Static Heat/Vacuum Testbed - Status unknown
- OK-??? - Static Test - Status unknown
- OK-TVA - Static Test - Now in Gorky Park, Moscow
The OK-GLI test vehicle was fitted with four jet engines mounted at the rear (the fuel tank for the engines occupied a quarter of the cargo bay). This Buran could take off under its own power for flight tests, which is a contrast to the American 'Enterprise' test vehicle, which was entirely unpowered and relied on an air launch.
After the programme was cancelled, OK-GLI was stored at Zhukovsky Air Base , near Moscow, and eventually bought by an Australian company called 'Buran Space Corporation'. It was transported by ship to Sydney, Australia via Gothenberg, Sweden (account of the operation) - arriving on February 9 2000, and appeared as a static tourist attraction under a large temporary structure in Darling Harbour for a few years.
Visitors could walk around and inside the vehicle (a walkway was built along the cargo bay), and plans were in place for a tour of varous cities in Australia and Asia. The owners, however, went into bankruptcy, and the vehicle was moved into the open air, where it suffered some deterioration and vandalism. It is now in Bahrain.
The grounding of the US space shuttles has caused many to wonder aloud whether the Russian Energia launcher or Buran shuttle could be brought back into service. The reality of the situation is that all the equipment for both (including the vehicles themselves) have fallen into disrepair or been repurposed since falling into disuse with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Buran in Science Fiction
Shuttle Buran, alongside with another Soviet space orbiter project, Spiral, is used in Sergey Lukyanenko's The Stars Are Cold Toys novel. Equipped with the fictional jumper engine, Buran is one of the primary means of interstellar trade with aliens.
- Energiya - The booster rocket, the second part of the "Buran-Energia" space system.
- Antonov An-225 - The world's largest aircraft (by MTOW), built to carry the Buran
- Mir space station
- Baikonur Cosmodrome
- Encyclopedia Astronautica: Buran
- buran.ru -- The official website by the NPO "Molniya", makers of the Buran.
- Images and information, very nice design
- Russian Aviation page
- Buran The Russian Shuttle - Gizmohighway Technology Guide
- Mir-Shuttle Docking Module - Astronautix.com
- German aviation museum acquires Buran test article for display (in German)
- Buran's first flight, lift-off video
- Web Site on Buran in Sydney
- landing video
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