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Buran - The Soviet Space Shuttle

By Marty McDowell/NASA

The Russian Shuttle Buran ("Snowstorm" in Russian) was authorized in 1976 in response to the United States' Space Shuttle program. It was not the first time the Soviets had copied Western technology. Building of the shuttles began in 1980, with the first full-scale Aero-Buran rolling out in 1984.

Test Flights

The first suborbital test flight of a scale model of Buran took place in July 1983. There were five additional flights of the scale model in following years. Aerodynamic tests of the full-scale Buran analogue began in 1984. This aero-Buran was worn out after 24 test flights and would not fly again. The last of these aerodynamic test flights was in April 1988.

Orbital Launch

The first and only orbital launch of the shuttle Buran was at 3:00 GMT on November 15, 1988. The flight was unmanned, as the life support system had not been checked out and the CRT displays had no software installed. The vehicle was launched on the powerful Energiya booster into an 247 by 256 km orbit at 51.6 degrees inclination. The Buran orbited the Earth twice before firing its thrusters for reentry. The flight ended at 6:25 GMT when the vehicle touched down at Tyuratum. The Buran 1 mission was limited to 2 orbits due to computer memory limitations.


Although the first orbital flight of Buran was unmanned, it demonstrated much promise. The autopilot that landed the shuttle was able to overcome a 34 mph crosswind to land within 5 feet of the runway center line. Also, of the 38,000 heat shield tiles that covered Buran, only five were missing.


After the first flight of Buran, funding for the project was cut. Although the project wasn't officially canceled until 1993, much of the work was halted long before that date. There were two other Buran shuttles under construction. The second orbiter, "Ptichka" ("Little Bird" in Russian) was originally scheduled for completion in 1990. The third Buran was due in 1992. Neither was finished. In November 1995, the partially completed shuttles were dismantled at their production site. The manufacturing plant was scheduled to be converted for production of buses, syringes, and diapers.

Source: NASA.


Share Your Memories!

What do you remember about the Soviet Space Shuttle? Have you any compelling stories to share? Share your stories with the world! (We print the best stories right here!)

Your Memories Shared!

"After the early game of space race catch-up (Sputnik, Yuri Gagarin) we played with the USSR, we were able to do everything better. We left them in our dust somewhere around 1965 and never looked back. That's the main reason why we're still here and they're lounging on history's compost heap. And they cut funding of most of their space program when everything fell apart in the early 90's.

But you know, We're guilty of it, too. After the successful missions of the 1970's and 80's(Voyagers I & II, Viking Mars lander) we kind of rested on our laurels and cut funding to our space research, too.

I think maybe we've lost our sense of adventure or our pioneer spirit. Kennedy said in 1961 that by the end of the decade, he wanted us to put a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth. We did it in less than 8 years. We've had our shuttle program in place and working for 20 years now. What are they doing? They carry experiments and satellites into orbit and come back. Big deal. Meanwhile, we have a planet that's running out of resources like sand runs out of an hourglass. Let's figure out a way to make the shuttles work for us, huh? Maybe if we still had the Russian Commies to race against, we'd have a base on the moon by now and a colony on Mars with an American flag flying over it. Maybe if the Soviets had kept up with their shuttle program, we'd have had a reason to make ours a little more substantial and productive, you know?"

--Rob D.

"Very cool site, but I think you guys should correct a couple errors re. the entry on "Buran". Firstly, although the aerodynamic layout of the American Space Shuttle heavily influenced the final shape of Buran, both countries were working on very similar design projects since the 1950's. The American shuttle got funding a lot earlier than the Soviet, so naturally NASA finished theirs ahead of the Russians. The technology of the two systems is quite different, with Energia/Buran being somewhat more advanced than STS because the Soviets had time to learn from some of the American mistakes.

Much more importatly, "Ptichka"(Little Bird) was the un-offical name sometimes applied to the 3rd Buran type shuttle, not the 2nd, which is in fact complete and in storage at Baikonur along with Buran herself. Both are in good condition, but would require major overhaul before they could be launched again. "Ptichka" was 70% complete when funding ceased, and is currently stored, in a partly dismantled condition at the factory where she was being built."

--Rob Willis

"With the most recent crisis involving our shuttle program, I was prompted to pull out the Columbia memoriabilia that I had since the first launch of the shuttle. I then noticed that I had also collected a section of the newspaper on the launching of Discovery, that contained and artical about the Soviet shuttle programme. This was a shock because I didn't remember anything about this. And now I'm more enlightened about the goings on during the last years of the Cold War."

--Brian Neubauer

"Hey, the Americans copied everything German after WWII! So what if the Soviets copied the shuttle, the Americans did it first!"


"It's appearance, shape are dictated by the laws of aerodynamics. This is not a copy cat of the NASA Shuttle. Russians should be comendended for what they had achieved in space exploration. There is still more news to come. [Editor's note: I don't in any way mean to take away from their accomplishments - which were considerable: They made it to space first and were first to many destinations in space. Their knack for knocking off copies of Western designed aircraft, however, predates even Sputnik, and I'm not going to shy away from it.]"

--Michael Lubovsky

"The substantial difference of Buran is that it was launched by an usual disposable Energia rocket. Buran itself did not have any serious engines. It was just a lander, and on the way up it was just a payload. Now, the interesting part is that instead of Buran you could strap any other payload of up to 100 tons on the side of the Energia rocket and launch it into the orbit, so you don't have to waste energy on getting the orbiter up with it. Of course, the drawback is that as far as I understand there are no such big payloads since the moon landing program, and that's why Energia was never launched again. "


Space References (Books):
Dickinson, Terence. Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe. Firefly Books, 1998.
Greene, Brian. Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory. Vintage, 2000.
Hawking, Stephen. Illustrated Brief History of Time, Updated and Expanded Edition. Bantam, 1996.
Hawking, Stephen. Theory of Everything: The Origin and Fate of the Universe. New Millenium, 2002.
Hawking, Stephen. The Universe in a Nutshell. Bantam, 2001.
Kaku, Michio. Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps and the Tenth Dimension.
Kranz, Gene. Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond. Berkley Pub Group, 2001.
Sagan, Carl; Druyan, Ann. Comet, Revised Edition. Ballantine, 1997
Sagan, Carl. Cosmos, Reissue Edition. Ballantine, 1993
Sagan, Carl. Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. Ballantine, 1997

Space References (Videos):
Cosmos. PBS, 2000.
Stephen Hawking's Universe. PBS, 1997.
Hyperspace. BBC, 2002.
Life Beyond Earth PBS, 1999.
The Planets
. BBC, 1999.
Understanding The Universe. A&E, 1996.



The Space Shuttle? Nyet! It's Buran!

Courtesy of RSA

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