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15 November 2011

On this day in history: Only spaceflight of Buran, 1988

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 Russian 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.

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 Buran.

At 3am local time on 15th November 1988 orbiter OK-1.01 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 Bosis Yeltsin officially cancelled the project in 1993.

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Mike Golch said...

it is interesting that they would have a simular version of our shuttle.

Stepterix said...

The Soviets were inclined to borrow designs. Just look at the so called Konkordski (the Tupolev Tu-144).