The Russian Shuttle Buran ("Snowstorm" in Russian) was authorized in 1976 in response to the United States Space Shuttle program. Building of the shuttles began in 1980, with the first full-scale Aero-Buran rolling out in 1984. It was launched by Energia LV.
The first suborbital test flight of a scale model of Buran took place in July 1983. There were five additional flights of the scale model in following years. Aerodynamic tests of the full-scale Buran analogue began in 1984. This aero-Buran was worn out after 24 test flights and would not fly again. The last of these aerodynamic test flights was in April 1988.
The first and only orbital launch of the shuttle Buran was at 3:00 GMT on November 15, 1988. The flight was unmanned, as the life support system had not been checked out and the CRT displays had no software installed. The vehicle was launched on the powerful Energiya booster into an 247 by 256 km orbit at 51.6 degrees inclination. The Buran orbited the Earth twice before firing its thrusters for reentry. The flight ended at 6:25 GMT when the vehicle touched down at Tyuratum. The Buran 1 mission was limited to 2 orbits due to computer memory limitations.
Although the first orbital flight of Buran was unmanned, it demonstrated much promise. The autopilot that landed the shuttle was able to overcome a 34 mph crosswind to land within 5 feet of the runway center line. Also, of the 38,000 heat shield tiles that covered Buran, only 5 were missing.
After the first flight of Buran, funding for the project was cut. Although the project wasn't officially canceled until 1993, much of the work was halted long before that date. There were two other Buran shuttles under construction. The second orbiter, "Ptichka" ("Little Bird" in Russian) was originally scheduled for completion in 1990. The third Buran was due in 1992. Neither was finished. In November 1995, the partially completed shuttles were dismantled at their production site. The manufacturing plant is scheduled to be converted for production of buses, syringes, and diapers.
The Soviet Space Shuttle by Bart Hendrickx
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Updated: Saturday 23rd, February, 2013