The Soviet Space Shuttle

The Buran was the little heard about reusable Soviet spaceplane which was the equivalent of the United States Space Shuttle that launched on the Energia rocket. The Buran orbiter only flew one unmanned mission into space in 1988 (and was destroyed in 2002) as the Buran program was cancelled in 1993.

Interesting Facts About The Soviet’s Space Shuttle!

  • Despite the world knowing little about it, the Buran Program would become the largest and most costly space exploration program of the Soviet Union.
  • The Buran name refers to the program at large, in addition to the vehicle (Buran/OK-1K1) which orbited the Earth. Other similar craft were built for testing.
  • The large expendable ‘super heavy-lift’ class launch vehicle Energia, which was built for the program, was used as the launch vehicle.
  • Unlike the American Shuttle System, the orbital class Buran only made one unmanned space mission which launched on 15 November 1988, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
  • The Buran shuttle completed two orbits (travelling 83,700 kilometres (52,010 mi)) before re-entering the atmosphere, returning to Baikonur and landed on the runway, under autopilot, with near-perfect precision!
  • This was the first time (and only) a space shuttle attempted and completed, an unmanned flight which included landing in fully automatic mode! Wow – pretty advanced!
  • The mission was planned to be just long enough (3 hours and 25 minutes) to test the launch and landing systems.
  • Surprisingly, on return, the Buran was discovered to have only been missing 8 of its 38,000 heat shield tiles; a lot less than the American shuttles in the early days.
  • Unfortunately, due to the fall of the Soviet Union, and subsequent cancellation of the program in 1993, the Buran never flew again and degraded in storage.
  • Tragically, in May 2002 during a storm over the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the hangar where the OK-1K1 Buran orbiter was stored, collapsed killing 8 people and destroying the spacecraft and the Energia rocket.
  • Before the cancellation of the Buran Program a second space-class orbiter (OK-1K2, nicknamed Ptichka) was almost completed and is still stored in a hanger in Baikonur.
  • The Buran test aircraft (OK-GLI) which was built in 1984 (and made 25 short aerodynamic flights) is now on display in Germany at the Technik Museum Speyer.
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