Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Soviet Snowstorm


On this date in 1988, the first and only "Russian Space Shuttle" launched from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

At 06:00:02 Moscow Time, the Energia super-heavy booster carrying a reusable orbiter blasted off, sending the unmanned mission into orbit. This single Buran mission circled the Earth twice in 206 minutes, then automatically landed at the Yubileiniy Airfield in Baikonur.

November 15, 1988: Буран-Энергия = Buran-Energiya

In February of 1976, the Central Committee of the Communist Party planned a program to "respond to the threat" of the American Space Shuttle, which was intended to replace rockets while lowering the cost of launching satellites. Energia-Buran systems, in contrast, were planned as carriers of nuclear weapons – and, as a secondary goal, would assemble and supply Mir-2, their planned space station at that time.

Including prototypes and models, there were 14 Burans – though only two were fully functional and flight-worthy. The first took one space trip, and was then put into a Baikonur hangar for years before being destroyed when the roof collapsed under heavy snow in 2002. The second? Never made it out of the yard in which it was constructed, and was later moved near the Cosmodrome for public display.

Over the 18 year period in which the program was active, 1 million people in 1,286 companies and 86 Soviet ministries were involved in various scientific and industrial aspects of designing, construction and testing.

Sadly, the overall cost of the Burans, which reached nearly 17 billion rubles by 1992, was too much for the weak economy when the USSR fell, and the Soviet Snowstorm program was officially abandoned in 1993.

Soviet Space Program
Glory to the Soviet people – the pioneers of space!

For awesome photographs and schematics of the Energia-Buran systems, including a side-by-side comparison to American space shuttles, see the BURAN.RU site.

For Buran technical specifications and timeline, see also the Russian Space Web.

If you're feeling particular adventurous, you can still visit the Buran at the Cosmodrome, and learn all about how they moved it with no trawler... though a safer and more accessible Buran model is located in the Technik Museum Speyer in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany.