Buran (Russian: Бура́н, IPA: [bʊˈran], Snowstorm or Blizzard) was a Soviet and later Russian reusable spacecraft project that began in 1974 at TsAGI and was formally suspended in 1993. It was a response to the United States Space Shuttle program. The project was the largest and the most expensive in the history of Soviet space exploration. Development work included sending the BOR-5 on multiple sub-orbital test flights, and atmospheric flights of the OK-GLI. Buran completed one unmanned orbital spaceflight in 1988 before its cancellation in 1993.
Although the Buran spacecraft was similar in appearance to the NASA Space Shuttle, and could similarly operate as a re-entry spaceplane, its internal and functional design was distinct. For example, the main engines during launch were on the Energia rocket and not taken into orbit on the spacecraft. Smaller rocket engines on the craft's body provided propulsion in orbit and de-orbital burns. Thus the Buran program matched an expendable rocket to a reusable spaceplane.
The Buran orbiter which flew the test flight was crushed in the Buran hangar collapse on 12 May 2002 in Kazakhstan. The OK-GLI resides in Technikmuseum Speyer.
- 1 Background
- 2 Development
- 3 Buran cosmonaut preparation
- 4 Missions
- 5 Cancellation (1993)
- 6 Status
- 7 Revival possibilities
- 8 Technical data
- 9 Comparison to NASA Space Shuttle
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
The Soviet reusable space-craft program has its roots in the very beginning of the space age, the late 1950s. The idea of Soviet reusable space flight is very old, though it was neither continuous, nor consistently organized. Before Buran, no project of the program reached production.
The idea saw its first iteration in the Burya high-altitude jet aircraft, which reached the prototype stage. Several test flights are known, before it was cancelled by order of the Central Committee. The Burya had the goal of delivering a nuclear payload, presumably to the United States, and then returning to base. The cancellation was based on a final decision to develop ICBMs. The next iteration of the idea was Zvezda from the early 1960s, which also reached a prototype stage. Decades later, another project with the same name was used as a service module for the International Space Station. After Zvezda, there was a hiatus in reusable projects until Buran.
The development of the Buran began in the early 1970s as a response to the U.S. Space Shuttle program. Soviet officials were concerned about a perceived military threat posed by the US Space Shuttle. In their opinion, the Shuttle's 30-ton payload-to-orbit capacity and, more significantly, its 15-ton payload return capacity, were a clear indication that one of its main objectives would be to place massive experimental laser weapons into orbit that could destroy enemy missiles from a distance of several thousands of kilometers. Their reasoning was that such weapons could only be effectively tested in actual space conditions and that to cut their development time and save costs it would be necessary to regularly bring them back to Earth for modifications and fine-tuning. Soviet officials were also concerned that the US Space Shuttle could make a sudden dive into the atmosphere to drop bombs on Moscow.
Soviet engineers were initially reluctant to design a spacecraft that looked superficially identical to the Shuttle, but subsequent wind tunnel testing showed that NASA's design was already ideal. Even though the Molniya Scientific Production Association proposed its Spiral program design (halted 13 years earlier), it was rejected as being altogether dissimilar from the American shuttle design. While NPO Molniya conducted development under the lead of Gleb Lozino-Lozinskiy, the Soviet Union's Military-Industrial Commission, or VPK, was tasked with collecting all data it could on the U.S. Space Shuttle. Under the auspices of the KGB, the VPK was able to amass documentation on the American shuttle's airframe designs, design analysis software, materials, flight computer systems and propulsion systems. The KGB targeted many university research project documents and databases, including Caltech, MIT, Princeton, Stanford and others. The thoroughness of the acquisition of data was made much easier as the U.S. shuttle development was unclassified.
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 (BOR-5) took place as early as July 1983. As the project progressed, five additional scale-model flights were performed. A test vehicle was constructed with four jet engines mounted at the rear; this vehicle is usually referred to as OK-GLI, or as the "Buran aerodynamic analogue". The jets were used to take off from a normal landing strip, and once it reached a designated point, the engines were cut and OK-GLI glided back to land. This provided invaluable information about the handling characteristics of the Buran design, and significantly differed from the carrier plane/air drop method used by the USA and the Enterprise test craft. Twenty-four test flights of OK-GLI were performed after which the shuttle was "worn out". The developers considered using a couple of Mil Mi-26 helicopters to "bundle" lift the Buran, but test flights with a mock-up showed how risky and impractical that was. The VM-T ferried components and the Antonov An-225 Mriya (the heaviest airplane ever) was designed and used to ferry the shuttle.
Buran cosmonaut preparation
A rule, set in place because of the failed Soyuz 25 of 1977, insisted that all Soviet space missions contain at least one crew member who has been to space before. In 1982, it was decided that all Buran commanders and their back-ups would occupy the third seat on a Soyuz mission, prior to their Buran spaceflight. Several people had been selected to potentially be in the first Buran crew. By 1985, it was decided that at least one of the two crew members would be a test pilot trained at the Gromov Flight Research Institute (known as "LII"), and potential crew lists were drawn up. Only two potential Buran crew members reached space: Igor Volk, who flew in Soyuz T-12 to the space station Salyut 7, and Anatoli Levchenko who visited Mir, launching with Soyuz TM-4 and landing with Soyuz TM-3. Both Soyuz spaceflights lasted about a week.
Spaceflight of Igor Volk
Volk was planned to be the commander of the first Buran flight. There were two purposes of the Soyuz T-12 mission, one of which was to give Volk spaceflight experience. The other purpose, seen as the more important factor, was to beat the United States and have the first spacewalk by a woman.
Spaceflight of Anatoli Levchenko
Levchenko was planned to be the back-up commander of the first Buran flight, and in March 1987 he began extensive training for his Soyuz spaceflight. In December 1987, he occupied the third seat aboard Soyuz TM-4 to Mir, and returned to Earth about a week later on Soyuz TM-3. His mission is sometimes called Mir LII-1, after the Gromov Flight Research Institute shorthand. Levchenko died of a brain tumour the following year, leaving the back-up crew again without spaceflight experience. A Soyuz spaceflight for another potential back-up commander was pursued by the Gromov Flight Research Institute, but such a spaceflight never occurred.
Following a series of atmospheric test flights using a jet-powered prototype, the first operational spacecraft flew one test mission, designated 1K1, on 15 November 1988 at 03:00:02 UTC. The spacecraft was launched unmanned from and landed at Baikonur Cosmodrome in the Kazakh S.S.R. and flew two orbits, travelling 83,707 kilometres (52,013 mi) in 3 hours and 25 minutes (0.14 flight days). Buran never flew again; the programme was cancelled shortly after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In 2002, the collapse of the hangar in which it was stored destroyed the Buran orbiter.
Atmospheric test flights
An aerodynamic testbed, OK-GLI, was constructed in 1984 to test the in-flight properties of the Buran design. Unlike the American prototype Space Shuttle Enterprise, OK-GLI had four AL-31 turbofan engines fitted, meaning it was able to fly under its own power.
|Flight date||Mission||Shuttle||Crew||Duration||Landing Site||Notes||Sources|
|10 November 1985||OK-GLI||2||00d 00h 12m||Baikonur|||
|3 January 1986||OK-GLI||2||00d 00h 36m||Baikonur|
|27 May 1986||OK-GLI||2||00d 00h 23m||Baikonur|
|11 June 1986||OK-GLI||2||00d 00h 22m||Baikonur|
|20 June 1986||OK-GLI||2||00d 00h 25m||Baikonur|
|28 June 1986||OK-GLI||2||00d 00h 23m||Baikonur|
|10 December 1986||OK-GLI||2||00d 00h 24m||Baikonur||First automatic landing|
|23 December 1986||OK-GLI||2||00d 00h 17m||Baikonur|
|29 December 1986||OK-GLI||2||00d 00h 17m||Baikonur|
|16 February 1987||OK-GLI||2||00d 00h 28m||Baikonur|
|21 May 1987||OK-GLI||2||00d 00h 20m||Baikonur|
|25 June 1987||OK-GLI||2||00d 00h 19m||Baikonur|
|5 October 1987||OK-GLI||2||00d 00h 21m||Baikonur|
|15 October 1987||OK-GLI||2||00d 00h 19m||Baikonur|
|16 January 1988||OK-GLI||2||Baikonur|
|24 January 1987||OK-GLI||2||Baikonur|
|23 February 1988||OK-GLI||2||00d 00h 22m||Baikonur|
|4 March 1988||OK-GLI||2||00d 00h 32m||Baikonur|
|12 March 1988||OK-GLI||2||Baikonur|
|23 March 1988||OK-GLI||2||Baikonur|
|28 March 1988||OK-GLI||2||Baikonur|
|2 April 1988||OK-GLI||2||00d 00h 20m||Baikonur|
|8 April 1988||OK-GLI||2||Baikonur|
|15 April 1988||OK-GLI||2||00d 00h 19m||Baikonur|
|1||15 November 1988||1K1||Buran||0||00d 03h 0025m||Baikonur||Only flight of Buran|||
The only orbital launch of the (unmanned) Buran shuttle 1.01 was at 3:00 UTC on 15 November 1988. It was lifted into orbit by the specially designed Energia booster rocket. The life support system was not installed and no software was installed on the CRT displays. The shuttle orbited the Earth twice in 206 minutes of flight. On its return, it performed an automated landing on the shuttle runway at Baikonur Cosmodrome.
The planned flights for the shuttles in 1989, before the downsizing of the project and eventual cancellation, were:
- 1991 — Shuttle 1.02 Ptichka unmanned first flight, duration 1–2 days.
- 1992 — Shuttle 1.02 Ptichka unmanned second flight, duration 7–8 days. Orbital maneuvers and space station approach test.
- 1993 — Shuttle 1.01 Buran unmanned second flight, duration 15–20 days.
- 1994 — Shuttle 2.01 Baikal first manned space test flight, duration of 24 hours. Craft equipped with life-support system and with two ejection seats. Crew would consist of only two cosmonauts with Igor Volk as commander, and Aleksandr Ivanchenko as flight engineer.
- Second manned space test flight, crew would consist of only two cosmonauts.
- Third manned space test flight, crew would consist of only two cosmonauts.
- Fourth manned space test flight, crew would consist of only two cosmonauts.
The planned unmanned second flight of Ptichka was changed in 1991 to the following:
- December 1991 — Shuttle 1.02 Ptichka unmanned second flight, with a duration of 7–8 days. Orbital maneuvers and space station approach test:
- automatic docking with Mir's Kristall module
- crew transfer from Mir to the shuttle, with testing of some of its systems in the course of twenty-four hours, including the remote manipulator
- undocking and autonomous flight in orbit
- docking of the manned Soyuz-TM 101 with the shuttle
- crew transfer from the Soyuz to the shuttle and onboard work in the course of twenty-four hours
- automatic undocking and landing
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 (informally Shuttle 1.02 Ptichka) and 1992 (informally Shuttle 2.01 Baikal) were never completed. The project was officially terminated on 30 June 1993, by President Boris Yeltsin. At the time of its cancellation, 20 billion rubles (roughly 71,534,000 USD) had been spent on the Buran program.
The program was designed to boost national pride, carry out research, and meet 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 space shuttle, the visitor was a U.S. shuttle, not Buran.
Buran hangar collapse
On 12 May 2002, a hangar in Kazakhstan collapsed because of a structural failure due to poor maintenance. The collapse killed 7 workers and destroyed one of the Buran craft, as well as a mock-up of an Energia booster rocket. It was not clear to outsiders at the time which Buran programme craft was destroyed, and the BBC reported that it was just "a model" of the orbiter. It occurred at the MIR building in area 112 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, 14 years after the first and only Buran flight. Work on the roof had begun for a maintenance project, whose equipment is thought to have contributed to the collapse. Also, preceding 12 May there had been several days of heavy rain.
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.
|Image||Serial number||Construction Date||Usage||Current status|
|Shuttle OK-1K1 — "Buran" (11F35 K1)||1986||Unmanned flight (1988)||Destroyed in the Buran hangar collapse in 2002.|
|||Shuttle OK-1K2 — informally "Ptichka" (11F35 K2)||1988||95-97% completed, unused||Property of Kazakhstan, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, in the MIK Building.|
|Shuttle OK-2K1 — informally "Baikal" (11F35 K3)||1990||Incomplete||Moved from the side of Khimki Reservoir in Moscow to Ramenskoye Airport for refurbishment ahead of the MAKS-2011 air show. Now exhibited at Ramenskoye.|
|||Shuttle 2.02 (OK-TK ?) (11F35 K4)||1991||Incomplete||Partially dismantled, remains outside Tushino Machine Building Plant, near Moscow.|
|Shuttle 2.03 (11F35 K5)||1992||Incomplete||Dismantled.|
|Test vehicles and mock-ups|
|OK-M (later OK-ML-1)||1982||Static test||Static test model: parts, normal temperature static loads, moment of inertia, payload mass, interface tests (horizontal and vertical) with the launch vehicle. Located at Baikonur Cosmodrome.|
|||OK-KS (003)||1982||Static electrical/integration test||Static test model: electronic and electric. Located at the Energia factory in Korolev|
|||OK-MT (later OK-ML-2)||1983||Engineering mock-up||Static test model: documentation, loading methods for liquids and gases, hermetic system integrity, crew entry and exit, manuals. Located at Baikonur Cosmodrome.|
|OK-GLI (Buran Analog BTS-002)||1984||Aero test||Analogue aero test model. Completed 25 aero test flights and 9 taxi tests. Bought by the Technikmuseum Speyer, transported to Germany in 2008.|
|OK-??? (Model 005 ?)||Static test||Vibration and vacuum test vehicle. Location unknown.|
|||OK-TVI||Static heat/vacuum testbed||Static test model: Environmental chamber heat/vacuum, thermal regimes. Location: NIIKhimMash, Moscow.|
|OK-??? (Model 008 ?)||Static test||Vibration and vacuum test vehicle. Location unknown.|
|OK-TVA||Static test||Structural test vehicle: loads and stresses, heating and vibration. Located in VDNKh, Moscow.|
|Related test vehicles and models|
|BOR-4||1982–1984||Sub-scale model of the Spiral space plane||1:2 scale model of Spiral space plane. 5 launches. NPO Molniya, Moscow.|
|BOR-5 ("Kosmos")||1983–1988||Suborbital test of 1/8 scale model of Buran||5 launches, none were reflown but at least 4 were recovered. NPO Molniya, Moscow.|
|Full-scale crew section||Medical-biological tests|
|GLI Horizontal Flight Simulator||Flight control software fine tuning|
|Wind tunnel models||Scales from 1:3 to 1:550||85 models built|
|Gas dynamics models||Scales from 1:15 to 1:2700|
The 2003 grounding of the U.S. Space Shuttles caused many to wonder whether the Russian Energia launcher or Buran shuttle could be brought back into service. By then, however, all of the equipment for both (including the vehicles themselves) had fallen into disrepair or been repurposed after falling into disuse with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Due to the 2011 retirement of the American space shuttle and the need for STS-type craft in the meantime to complete the International Space Station, some American and Russian scientists had been mulling over plans to possibly revive the already-existing Buran shuttles in the Buran program rather than spend money on an entirely new craft and wait for it to be fully developed but the plans did not come to fruition.
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (August 2011)|
- Mass breakdown
- Mass of Total Structure / Landing Systems: 42,000 kg (93,000 lb)
- Mass of Functional Systems and Propulsion: 33,000 kg (73,000 lb)
- Maximum Payload: 30,000 kg (66,000 lb)
- Maximum liftoff weight: 105,000 kg (231,000 lb)
- Length: 36.37 m (119.3 ft)
- Wingspan: 23.92 m (78.5 ft)
- Height on Gear: 16.35 m (53.6 ft)
- Payload bay length: 18.55 m (60.9 ft)
- Payload bay diameter: 4.65 m (15.3 ft)
- Wing glove sweep: 78 degrees
- Wing sweep: 45 degrees
- Total orbital maneuvering engine thrust: 17,600 kgf (173,000 N; 39,000 lbf)
- Orbital Maneuvering Engine Specific Impulse: 362 seconds (3.55 km/s)
- Total Maneuvering Impulse: 5 kgf-sec (11 lbf-sec)
- Total Reaction Control System Thrust: 14,866 kgf (145,790 N; 32,770 lbf)
- Average RCS Specific Impulse: 275–295 seconds (2.70–2.89 km/s)
- Normal Maximum Propellant Load: 14,500 kg (32,000 lb)
Comparison to NASA Space Shuttle
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (April 2010)|
Because Buran's debut followed that of Space Shuttle Columbia's, and because there were striking visual similarities between the two shuttle systems—a state of affairs which recalled the similarity between the Tupolev Tu-144 and Concorde supersonic airliners—many speculated that Cold War espionage played a role in the development of the Soviet shuttle. Despite remarkable external similarities, many key differences existed, which suggests that, had espionage been a factor in Buran's development, it would likely have been in the form of external photography or early airframe designs. One CIA commenter states that Buran was based on a rejected NASA design.
Key differences from the NASA Space Shuttle
- Buran had no main engines, and Energia's engines were expendable. The Space Shuttle main engines were part of the orbiter, and were reused for multiple flights.
- Energia could be configured for variety of payloads other than Buran, and was able to put up to 100 metric tons into orbit. The Space Shuttle orbiter was integral to its launch system and was the system's only payload.
- Energia's four boosters used liquid propellant (kerosene/oxygen). The Space Shuttle's two boosters used solid propellant.
- Energia's four boosters were expended after each flight, though they were intended to eventually be recoverable. The Space Shuttle's boosters were recovered and reused.
- Buran's equivalent of the shuttle's Orbital Maneuvering System used GOX/LOX/Kerosene propellant, with lower toxicity and higher performance (a specific impulse of 362 seconds (3.55 km/s) using a turbopump system) than the Shuttle's pressure-fed monomethyl hydrazine/nitrogen tetroxide OMS engines.
- Buran was designed to be capable of both piloted and fully autonomous flight, including landing. The Space Shuttle was later retrofitted with automated landing capability, first flown on STS-121, but the system was intended to be used only in contingencies.
- The nose landing gear was located much farther down the fuselage rather than just under the mid-deck as with the NASA Space Shuttle.
- Buran could lift 30 metric tons into orbit in its standard configuration, comparable to the early Space Shuttle's original 27.8 metric tons
- Buran included a drag chute, the Space Shuttle did not originally but was later retrofitted to include one.
- The lift-to-drag ratio of Buran is cited as 6.5, compared to a subsonic L/D of 4.5 for the Space Shuttle.
- Buran and Energia were moved to the launch pad horizontally on a rail transporter, and then erected and fueled at the launch site. The Space Shuttle was transported vertically on the Crawler-Transporter with loaded solid boosters 
- The Buran was intended to carry a crew of up to ten, the Shuttle carried up to eight in regular operation and would have carried more only in a contingency.
- MAKS (spacecraft)
- Manned space missions
- Unmanned space missions
- Space exploration
- Space accidents and incidents
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