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Buran (Snowstorm)

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The Russian shuttle The Buran Program was authorized in 1976 in response to the United States' Space Shuttle program. Construction of the shuttles began in 1980, and suborbital testing of a scale model began in 1984. By April of 1988, the aerodynamic analogue of the shuttle (OK-GLI) had been worn out after 25 test flights.

Originally, there were to be three orbiters built. This was increased to five in 1983. By the time the project was cancelled, only one was completed (Buran - OK-1.01), one 95-97% complete (Ptichka (Little Bird) - OK-1.02), and one 30-50% complete (Baikal (Typhoon) - OK-2.01). Two more (OK-2.02 and OK-2.03) only had the engine units built. A point of interest is that Buran (OK-1.01) is actually just the name of the first orbiter. Referring to the entire fleet as Buran is like referring to all the American orbiters as Columbia. As a point of interest, Buran was originally to be named Baikal but renamed just a few weeks prior to its flight.

The first and only orbital flight of the shuttle Buran was on 15 November 1988. The flight was unmanned. The life support system had not been certified and the software for the CRT displays was not installed. The mission was limited to two orbits due to limitations on computer memory. Despite a 34 mph crosswind, Buran was able to land within 5 feet of the runway center line. Upon inspection, only 5 of the 38,000 heat shield tiles were missing.

Funding for Buran was cut after the first flight and much of the work stopped, although the project was not officially cancelled until 1993. The three complete or partially complete orbiters are in storage at Baikonur. The final two were both dismantled at the production site. At last report, the manufacturing facility was scheduled to be converted to the production of buses, syringes, and diapers.

The final test flight plan (from early 1989) called for a one or two day unmanned first flight of the second orbiter in (4th quarter 1991), a seven to eight day unmanned flight with a payload (first half 1992), a 15-20 day unmanned flight in 1993, and the first manned flight in 1994 or 1995.

Buran vs. Space Shuttle

  Shuttle Buran
Mass Breakdown (kg):    
Total Structure / Landing Systems 46,600 42,000
Functional Systems and Propulsion 37,200 33,000
SSME 14,200  
Maximum Payload 25,000 30,000
Total 123,000 105,000
Dimensions (m):    
Length 37.25 36.37
Wingspan 23.80 23.92
Height on Gear 17.25 16.35
Payload bay length 18.29 18.55
Payload bay diameter 4.57 4.65
Wing glove sweep 81 deg 78 deg
Wing sweep 45 deg 45 deg
Total orbital maneuvering engine thrust 5,440 kgf 17,600 kgf
Orbital Maneuvering Engine Specific Impulse 313 sec 362 sec
Total Maneuvering Impulse 5 kgf-sec 5 kgf-sec
Total Reaction Control System Thrust 15,078 kgf 14,866 kgf
Average RCS Specific Impulse 289 sec 275-295 sec
Normal Maximum Propellant Load 14,100 kg 14,500 kg

The Buran was capable of either flying a mission completely unmanned or with a crew of 2-4 cosmonauts. It also had the ability to carry up to 6 passengers. The Space Shuttle cannot fly unmanned missions.

Following cancellation of the shuttle program, Buran was stored it a hanger at Baikonur. The craft was destroyed when the hanger collapsed on 12 May 2002. Ptichka is also at Baikonur but not in the same hanger as Buran was.

A drawn to scale comparison of the Soyuz launch vehicle, the American STS system,
and the Energia Buran in launch configuration. (Credit: NASA)

Taxi and flight tests of the OK-GLI can be found here.

Click a photo to enlarge. Photos are from the Russian Aviation and Space Agency.

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Ptichka and Baikal

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Ptichka in Baikonur hanger - click to enlarge (Credit: Ralph Mirebs)

Baikal was found in pieces, rotting on a river bank near Moscow. It was moved to Zhukovitsky International Airport and partially reassembled.

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Baikal on barge to Zhukovitsky airport - click to enlarge (Credit: Svetlov Artem)

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Baikal at Zhukovisky airport, 2012 - click to enlarge (Credit: Alan Wilson)

More Buran photos

Before Buran, there was Spiral.
Later, there was Kliper.


Page last modified: 31 October 2021 15:25:32.