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The Buran Hystory

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Shuttle Buran

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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


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".

First flight

The first and only orbital launch of the (unmanned) shuttle Buran was at 3:00 GMT on November 15, 1988. It was lifted into orbit by the specially designed Energiya booster rocket. The life support system was not tested yet 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. This is a capability that the U.S. shuttle system does not have, but one which has been proposed for inclusion in the future to allow unmanned operation.

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.)


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 Buran SO, a docking module that was to be used for rendezvous with the Mir space station, was refitted for use with the US space shuttles during the Shuttle-Mir missions.

The completed shuttles called 1.01 and 1.02 and the remains of the project are now property of Kazakhstan. In 2002, the hangar housing the sole space-flown Buran orbiter and a mockup of the Energiya booster rocket collapsed due to incomplete maintenance. Eight workers were also killed in the collapse of the building's roof. The exact location of Buran 1.02 is not known today (though some photos suggest it is now stored outdoors on an assembled Energiya booster). A second series of orbiters began construction but was never completed, and at least one of the three was dismantled.

In September 2004 a German reporter team found a Shuttle near Bahrain. Apparently it was the Buran 002 which performed 25 atmospheric flights to test landing procedures. It was bought by the Sinsheim Auto & Technik Museum.

Russian space

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