Astronomy

Buran re Usable Space Vehicle



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In 1974 engineers of the Soviet Union began work on the Buran ("Blizzard") project, which was a response to NASA's Space Shuttle programme. The goals of the programme were wholly military as opposed to the Shuttle which was also used for commercial and scientific missions as well as the more secretive military ones. An enterprise was created especially for the project called NPO Molniya under the directorship of Gleb Lozino-Lozinskiy, who was also chief designer of Buran. Lozino-Lozinskiy and his engineers favoured a design for a lighter reusable spacecraft where the entire body of the craft created lift, but the military leadership demanded that they copy the delta-wing design of the American Shuttle. Six years later, construction commenced on the spacecraft, with the first full-scale prototype reaching completion in 1984 and the first of the two completed production vehicles appearing in 1986.

The length of the spacecraft was 36.37 metres, with a wingspan of 23.92 metres. The cabin had space for a crew of ten, behind which was the payload bay designed to carry loads weighing up to 30 tonnes into space or bringing materials weighing half that amount from space back to Earth. The maximum launch weight of the vehicle was 105 tonnes.

As with the NASA design, in order to achieve space flight the Buran needed an external source of thrust that would be jettisoned when no longer needed. Buran employed an Energia rocket supplemented by four smaller liquid-fuel Zenit booster rockets, unlike the Shuttle, which uses two solid-fuel booster rockets connected to a fuel tank. The Energia made a successful test-launch in May 1987, paving the way for an unmanned test-flight of the first production spacecraft OK-101, named Buran.

At 3 am local time on 15th November 1988 orbiter OK-101 lifted off from the launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome. The space flight lasted 206 minutes, during which Buran orbited the Earth twice before making a successful automatic landing on a runway back at Baikonur despite of a powerful cross-wind. Nevertheless, the success of the test flight was not enough to save the project, which was mothballed due to lack of funds and the shifting political situation in the Soviet Union before President Boris Yeltsin officially cancelled the project in 1993. Eight years later the roof of the hangar in which Buran was stored collapsed, destroying the orbiter and taking the lives of eight workers.

A number of the static and flight test vehicles survive including OK-ML-1 and OK-ML-2 at Baikonur, along with the partially completed production vehicles, OK-102 and OK-201. OK-TVI and OK-TVA are both in Moscow, with the latter located in Gorky Park. The Technikmuseum in Speyer, Germany, acquired OK-GLI in 2008, where it is now exhibited.

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