Nov. 15, 1988: Soviet Shuttle Launched

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  Space News Business

Nov. 15, 1988: Soviet Shuttle Launched

By CLINTON PARKS
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 16 November 2007
02:29 pm ET





Washington





Seven years after the United States




flew its first




space shuttle mission




, t




he Soviet Union launched




its own




space plane




from the BaikonurCosmodrome in




Kazakhstan using




an Energia heavy-lift booster.







The unmanned mission was the first and, as it turned out, only flight of Buran, the Soviet Union’s answer to the U.S. space shuttle.

The Buran orbiter




, built by Molniya Research Industrial Corp. of Moscow, made two Earth orbits before




re-entering the atmosphere and gliding in for a runway landing at Baikonur. The entire flight lasted 205 minutes.



Using an automated system, the Buran









landed




1.5 meters from the center of the runway despite a nearly 58-kilometer-per-hour crosswind. The Soviet space plane




only lost five of its 34,000 heat shield tiles, according to




NASA’s Web site




.



The Buran project was formally approved in 1976 to counter the perceived strategic capabilities of the U.S. space shuttle, then in development, which was intended to serve both NASA and the U.S. military. The project was led by the Soviet Ministry of Defense with NPO Energia of Moscow serving as prime contractor.

Soviet engineers borrowed heavily from the U.S. vehicle’s design and the result was a Buran orbiter that from an aerodynamic standpoint is barely distinguishable from its U.S. counterpart.

There were important differences, however, particularly in




the booster vehicle.









Buran’s liquid-fueled Energia main booster




, built by NPO




Energia
,




was less efficient but more powerful than NASA’s solid-fueled




booster assembly used to loft the space shuttle




.

The Energia heavy-lifter made a test flight in 1987 carrying a military payload. The payload failed to achieve a sustainable orbit due to a guidance system problem, but the booster performed as expected, clearing the way for the first of what was supposed to be an initial series of 10 Buran missions, according to the online Encyclopedia Astronautica.





At the time Buran was being developed, the Soviets had little experience with solid-fueled rockets and lacked the infrastructure necessary to develop large ones, according Encyclopedia Astronautica. But while the decision was made to go with liquid-fueled booster rockets, built by NPO Yushnoye of Ukraine, the Buran’s main engine, like that of the space shuttle, was a throttleable design fueled by liquid hydrogen and oxygen.

The Soviets originally planned to build three Buran orbiters, a goal that was increased to five. Ultimately, however, only three Buran airframes were built.

The Soviets envisioned




that




Buran
would fly about 30 missions per




year, deploying and servicing military satellites and transporting cosmonauts to and from




space stations. But the Soviets already had a reliable stable of expendable rockets for those missions, and Buran would wind up making only one flight.





In the early 1990s, Buran




fell victim not only to the economic collapse of the Soviet Union, but to its own lack of a concrete purpose.




There was not enough money to support the costly program, and the newly formed Russian Space Agency had to




decide




between




continuing




support




for either the




Mir space station or




Buran
. In March 1992, Yuri Koptev, the general director of the




Russian Space Agency,




chose




Mir




.



There were a number of proposals to revive Buran. In October 1992, for example,




Valentin
Stepanov, director general of the engineering department of the Russian Ministry of Industry, said Buran would be launched to Mir in November 1993




.

But




that flight never materialized.




Although Buran was never officially canceled, its funding was halted and it disappeared from Russian budgets in 1993, according to Encyclopedia Astronautica


.