Happy Anniversary, Buran – 15 November 1988

Nov 15, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Fun, Space  //  No Comments

Today marks the anniversary of the first and only orbital mission of the Buran, the Soviet Union’s only shuttle program.  This flight was unmanned. Haven’t heard of the Buran?  Neither had I until I visited the Speyer Technik Museum just outside of Frankfurt, Germany as part of the social activities of the European Space Agency’s first SpaceTweetup a few months ago.    In 1988 I was working at Space Division at a US Air Force base and I still had not heard of this program.  I guess I was focused on data and process models to much.

During the visit we were able to climb up to view the payload area and some of the crew areas.  I’m betting that the general public won’t get this sort of access to the US Space Shuttle orbiters once they are delivered to their museum homes next year. 

 

From Wikipedia:

The only orbital launch of Buran occurred at 3:00 UTC on 15 November 1988 from Baikonur Cosmodrome Site 110/37. It was lifted into orbit unmanned by the specially designed Energia rocket, which to this day remains the heaviest rocket running on liquid fuel. Unlike the Space Shuttle, which is propelled by a combination of solid boosters and the Shuttle’s own liquid-fuel engines sourcing fuel from a large fuel tank, the Energia-Buran system used only thrust from the rocket’s four RD liquid-fuel engines developed by Valentin Glushko. From the very beginning Buran was intended to be used in both fully automatic and manual mode. Although the program accumulated a several-years delay, Buran remained the only space shuttle to ever perform an unmanned flight in fully automatic mode until 22 April 2010 when the US Air Force launched its Boeing X-37 spaceplane. The automated launch sequence performed as specified, and the Energia rocket lifted the vehicle into a temporary orbit before the orbiter separated as programmed. After boosting itself to a higher orbit and completing two revolutions around the Earth, ODU (engine control system) engines fired automatically to begin the descent into the atmosphere. Exactly 206 minutes into the mission, the Buran orbiter landed, having lost only five of its 38,000 thermal tiles over the course of the flight.[6] The automated landing took place on a runway at Baikonur Cosmodrome where, despite a lateral wind speed of 61.2 kilometres per hour (38.0 mph), it landed only 3 metres (9.8 ft) laterally and 10 metres (33 ft) longitudinally from the target mark.[6] The unmanned flight was the first time that a spacecraft of this size and complexity had been launched, completed maneuvers in orbit, re-entered the atmosphere, and landed under automatic guidance.

Wikipedia contributors, "Buran (spacecraft)," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Buran_(spacecraft)&oldid=459715789 (accessed November 15, 2011).

The Buran program was the Soviet Union’s response to the NASA Space Shuttle program.  Once the cold war came to an end, the Buran program was ended in 1993.  No manned space flights of the Buran happened.  Now both programs are over and we are back to non-reusable vehicles to launch astronauts to the International Space Station.

Watch the video of the Buran being delivered to the Speyer Technik (German)

 

Buran delivery

 

As we left the exhibit, I wondered what a joint shuttle program with more space agencies co-operating might have been.

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