Thursday, April 10, 2008

Buran Buran

Did you know the Soviet Union had its own space shuttle? That's a picture of it to the right. It was called Buran, which means snowstorm in Russian.

The Soviets built Buran at great expense to compete with the U.S. space shuttle. Buran flew exactly once in 1988, before being permanently mothballed in the final days of the Soviet Union. The expense of the program was simply unsustainable for the cash-strapped Soviet government. Buran was in many ways technologically superior to the U.S. shuttle on which it was modeled. For instance, it was completely automated. Although it was designed to carry a crew, its maiden flight was unmanned.

Like so much of the Soviet era space hardware and facilities, Buran quickly fell into disrepair. Two were built, but one was destroyed a few years ago by the collapse of the hanger in which it was kept. Now the sole surviving model has been sold to a German museum, where it will go on permanent display. On this last trip to its final home, Buran rode on a barge this week down the Rhine river:


Electric Monk said...

I've actually seen two full-sized models of the Buran myself. One was an end-to-end model at Gorky Park, and the other was a training mockup of the flight deck at Star City just outside Moscow. I wonder if the Gorky Park one was the one sold to the Germans.

It looks almost exactly like a Shuttle, with enough differences to make it clear that it's definitely NOT one. Also the picture of the vehicle on its tank and boosters gives it away, since it used (I believe) a Proton booster rather than the SRB/ET configuration.

Bill Hensley said...

It launched on the enormous Energiya booster, which was also short-lived. And, yes, they explicitly copied the shuttle aerodynamic design although there are significant differences (such as using expendable engines that are on the booster, not the shuttle.)

Regarding which Buran ended up in Germany, I did a little online research and uncovered the following facts. The Buran that actually flew was the one destroyed in the hanger collapse, unfortunately. The one going to Germany was fitted with jet engines (which you can see in the barge picture) and used for atmospheric testing. The one in Gorky Park is a mockup that was used for static testing.

BTW, in case you're wondering they had to remove the tail section for transport on the barge, which is why it looks a little funny.