August 15, 2022

The Soviet Buran reusable spacecraft program, transcribed Buran (“Бура́н” means “snowstorm” in Russian), was launched in 1976 in response to the US space shuttle program. The Soviet leaders, who were convinced that this American program would be used for military purposes, wanted to have an equivalent device in order to maintain the balance of power during the Cold War. This project was the largest and most expensive in the history of Soviet space exploration.

Characteristics of Buran

The construction of five Buran shuttles was launched but only one flew. A second example was completed while the construction of the other three was in progress when the program was stopped. Many other models were built for the development of Buran, including one equipped with four aircraft engines, which made it possible to test its behavior in subsonic flight. Just like the first tests of the American shuttles, the pilots had ejection seats. The pressurized cabin has four pilot seats and six passenger seats. Weighing 75 tonnes empty, it can carry 27 tonnes into orbit at 450 km (compared to 24 tonnes for American shuttles). The Energia rocket is used to launch the Buran shuttle.

Development of Buran

Development of the Buran program began in the early 1970s in response to the United States space shuttle program. Although the engineers had preferred a smaller, lighter vehicle with a supporting body, the Soviets lobbied to design a shuttle the same size as the Americans and drawing heavy inspiration from them. Construction of the shuttle began in 1980, and in 1984 the first and only model rolled out of the factories. In 1983 the test of a scale model took place. But as the project was constantly delayed, for lack of funds and especially because of numerous failures, the Buran shuttle program was abandoned. Twenty-four test flights would have taken place with the first complete model before the shuttle was declared fit for service. The Antonov An-225 was used to transport the Buran space shuttle from its construction site to its launch site, performing the same role as the modified 747 (Shuttle Carrier Aircraft) used by American space shuttles.

The first flight

The first flight of the Energuia rocket was made with an 80-tonne Polious warhead. If the rocket accomplished its task correctly, the guidance system of Polious did not work correctly and it crashed into the Pacific Ocean. The one and only orbital flight (in automatic mode) of the shuttle took place on November 15, 1988 at 3:00 UTC in unfavorable weather conditions. The orbiter was launched by an Energuia rocket. The life support system was not installed and there was no human-machine interface software. After eight minutes of flight, Buran was placed in orbit at an altitude of 160 km; the shuttle then used its own engines to reach 250 km, circled the Earth twice before returning and landing in automatic mode at Baikonur airfield (an aircraft accompanied the shuttle to film it during the landing. It slowly touches the airstrip and gradually brakes until it stops with the accompanying plane next to it which passes on the other side while flying over the space shuttle. few meters). It also demonstrated the possibility of using a shuttle for unmanned missions. Part of the mission was televised, but the liftoff was not, prompting speculation that a pos