26 September 2020

FWS Topics: The Sad Story of the Soviet Space Shuttle

The Cold War was fought on many fronts and one of them was the final frontier. In those heady days of the Soviet and US Space Programs, it was our Nazi scientists verse their Nazi scientists in a race of technological achievement, national pride, milestones, and international bragging rights. Early on, the USSR was able to launch the first satellite, first dog in space, first man in space, first woman in space, the first space walk; but their strain of victories wouldn't last. Once NASA landed men on the Moon, the Space Race was seemingly over and both space programs entered into different phases of space exploration that did not always mirror one another. Where the Soviets would reuse the same basic spacecraft, the Soyuz, to this very day, the US would turn to a massive development project to develop the first reusable space vehicle that would be an "orbital pickup truck" for the planned NASA space station Freedom. During this, the USSR launched their very successful Mir space station, but kept close tabs on the US Space Shuttle program with an air of suspension. In the mid-1980's, the Western world would see how closely the USSR had been eyeing the NASA Orbiter when the Buran Space Shuttle was rolled out. This is the sad story of the Soviet Energiya-Buran Space Shuttle program and this was passion project for me as a massive space nerd. 

What Does the Word "Buran" Mean?
The Soviet Space Shuttle is commonly referred to by a single name by the media (both East and West) that would be similar to uniting all of the NASA Space Shuttles under a single name, like “Columbia” rather than “the Orbiter” or “STS”.  The name “Buran” actually refers to a specific spaceplane vehicle that flew on the only flight of the Soviet Space Shuttle program on November 15th, 1988; internally known as Orbitaknyy Korabl or “orbital ship” with a number. In the case of the Buran spaceplane it was known as OK-1K1 or just 1K If that spaceplane had flown more than once it would have been OK-1K2 and so on. This designation is similar to the NASA STS OV-101 AKA “Enterprise”. The term first used by the Soviet Space Program was coined in February of 1976 “Mnogorazovaya Kosmicheskaya Sistema (MKS)” or the “Reusable Space System”, which is very similar to NASA’s STS. The internal Ministry of Defense designation for the spaceplane was 11F35 and the inter-orbital space tug being 11F45. Then there is another term used due to the general name of the rocket family being used to propel the Soviet Shuttle into orbit: Energiya, known in the West as Energia. At times, the entire program is known as Energia-Buran or just the machinery involved in the 1988 launch. When you combine the shuttle and the rocket the Russian name for that is: Universalnaya Raketno-Kosmicheskaya Transportnaya Sistema. Confused? Yeah…that happens when discussing the Soviet Space Shuttle program. Even the name Energia was designed by the space program for the general public in 1987 and that bring us to the word “Buran”.
The word is brought into the Russian language from Turkish origin and while it can be generalized as “snowstorm”, it is more specifically to a violent cold wind coming off of the Central Asian Steppes (also home to the Pallas Wild Cat) that lifts snow off of the ground; creating a storm effect. There is also a pass called "Buran Ghati" of the Western Himalayan in the Indian region of Himachal Pradesh. Originally, the name “Buran” was going to be assigned to a cruise missile system that was cancelled in the 1950s. It is likely that since Myasishchev design bureau was involved with the canceled cruise missile and the Soviet Space Shuttle program, the name originated from that source. In 1975, one of the original shuttle proposals, OS-120, had the name “Buran” attached to it to encompass the entire space transport system. This name attached itself to the spaceplane from then forward and was officially released to the world by the TASS news agency when announcing the upcoming first launch.
According to sources, the original name of the OK-1K1 was to be “Baykal” after the beautiful lake in Siberia, but was changed to “Buran”. Given that this specific spaceplane was the only one to fly, the entire Soviet Space Shuttle Program was generalized under this single name of Buran. When the program was canceled by the Russian government in 1993, there was five other Buran class Orbiters in production that also had names…of a sort. Much like the Buran was known as OK-1K, the others would have been known as OK-2K, OK-3K and so on. Some sources have reported that OK-2K would have been christened “Burya” or “storm”. Several sources have disagreed with this name and stated that the second in-production orbiter would have been named “Ptichka” or “birdie”. This claim is rejected by the book Energiya-Buran: The Soviet Space Shuttle by Historians Hendrickx and Vis, stating that it was just a nickname used for all of the shuttles.
There are others that state that “Baykal” would have recycled for OK-3K, and again, this is conjecture. The issue of the official names of these other orbiters would be easily resolved if the MKS program had moved forward when final assembly of the other shuttles and painted names on them. For the purposes of this article, FWS will refer to the Soviet Space Shuttles as just that or the Buran class. When referring to OK-1K spaceplane, it could be referred by that designation or the Buran. In a twist of irony that Yoel reminded me of is that the actual OK-1K Buran orbiter was destroyed by the weight of snow on the roof of the Baikonur museum in May of 2002. Besides the loss of OK-1K, eight workers lost their lives as well. For the purposes of this article, we will be using the term "Energiya-Buran" to refer to the overall Soviet Space Shuttle program. When referring directly to the actual Buran space shuttle, we will attempt to use OK-1K Buran. 

The Historical Context of the Soviet Space Shuttle Program
As some of you know, I was a social studies teacher, and when I taught high school history courses, I taught the Space Race. The journey into space, at that time, was a contest between ideologies and completing technologies with national pride being the reward. While it got the United States to the Moon in 1969, that high bar left the USSR and USA at odds about what to do next in the Final Frontier in the next decade. During the 1970’s, the toll of Vietnam and social disharmony caused for rough decade and the US government was not has interested in spending large sums of cash on a Mars mission (which is still the class). Instead NASA recycled pieces of the Apollo program for SkyLab and peace docking mission in space with the Soviets. What was presented to President Nixon was a reusable space plane that could be used to construct the US space station named Freedom. All of this orbital space for the manned program while the deep space discoveries and exploration were made by probes.  In 1972, the reusable space shuttle was approved by the Nixon Administration and without knowing it; this also gave birth to the Soviet Space Shuttle program. The 1970’s was also a period of expansion for the USSR Space Program with regards to militarizing orbital space with the Salyut space stations, that included one that was armed with a 23mm cannon.
This was a general theme of the technological advancements of the 1970’s through the 1980’s to apply the new technological understanding to military applications which included orbital space. It was during the 1970’s that the Soviet Union also decided to counter the incoming capability of the NASA Space Transport System with their spaceplanes projects that also coupled with an expanded space station above the Salyut stations. By the close of the 1970’s, the Cold War and manned space travel were at a cross roads, which included the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and the upcoming American Presidential election. After the election of Ronald Reagan, there was the birth of SDI and the push for Mother Russia to respond in kind. 

The Soviet Space Shuttle…By the Numbers

Length: 36.37 meters

Width: 5.5 meters

Height: 16.35 meters

Wing span  23.92 meters

Maximum weight: 105 tons

Payload weight: 30 tons

Landing weight: 82 - 87 tons

Returnable payload: 15 - 20 tons

Crew 2 - 10 people

Flight duration: 7 - 30 days

Orbit inclination range: 50.7 - 110 degrees

Orbit altitude range: 250 - 1,000 km

Orbital maneuvering system thrust (in vacuum): 8.8 tons

G-loads: 3 - 1.6

Landing speed (with landing weight 82 tons)       312 - 360 km/hour

Maximum lateral maneuver during the reentry: 1,700 km

The Origin of the Energiya-Buran Program: Why did the USSR Build a Space Shuttle?
The 1970's represented a time of crossroads for both the US and USSR manned space programs after the Moon race, and both it seemed, where headed in different directions. While the United States had landed several manned mission to the Lunar surface and gotten the crew of the Apollo 13 home, the public support and money was just not there to construct a lunar outpost. On the other side of the Berlin Wall, the USSR manned space program was unable to met their goal of landing cosmonauts on the Moon in 1967 and with the destruction of the N-1 rocket and other interior issues; the Soviet Lunar program came to an end. For both Superpowers, it seemed that Terran orbital space would be the contest ground and possibly, a battleground. While it can be assumed that the United States was the first to put forward the idea of a reusable space vehicle that possess the characteristics of a plane, it was actually the first manned space program to construct and put into service such a vehicle. For all three manned space programs, the first stage of manned space flight is in the form of rocket propelled capsules and then move to space transport systems like the NASA Orbiter and the USSR Buran. The concept of shuttles goes back to plans by Nazi Germany when they were laying out their own manned space program and the Russians also were exploring a reusable space vehicle well before the Energiya-Buran program was envisioned. 
According to the the Energiya-Buran: The Soviet Space Shuttle book by Bart Hendrickx & Bert Vis, it was in 1973 that the Soviet military command was being increasingly concerned about the capabilities of the planned NASA space shuttle. When the Soviets crunched the numbers, it seemed that there was greater starlift capability than what was needed by what the Soviets understood about the goals of NASA and American space policy goals. Also, the American shuttle could starlift 30 tons of cargo and return 15 tons back dirtside and that also deeply troubled the Soviets. What the hell was NASA up to with their shuttle? Some claimed that the American shuttle could be used as an orbital dive bomber that could, in theory, strike Moscow with less warning time than an ICBM, making the Space Shuttles a "first strike" weapons platform. Added to this rising fear was the very real project to retrofit some of the launching pad complex to fit the STS at Vandenberg Air Force base. This further reinforced the thought by the Soviet military that the new reuseable American spaceplane would be used extensively by the US Air Force for secret space military applications. By February of 1976, the Central Committee of the Communist Party approved the development of their own space shuttle to counter the Americans and close the "Shuttle Gap".   
To sum up, the sad origin story of the Energiya-Buran program is based on mistrust and paranoia of the two Superpowers during the 1970's and the 1980's. Why is that sad? Because for many of us that grew up watching programs like Star Trek, space was going to be conquered and explored via a common shared effort by the entire planet. And in some ways, the Energiya-Buran program shows how the prospect of orbital space being used as the next battleground between the eagle and the bear can physically manifest itself in a very expensive shuttle program that did not need to exist. We have to remember, that it was not just the wild USSR imagination that created orbital space battles, the Reagan Administration did indeed have a program, SDI, to arm orbital space. It also sad that a very well-designed (and maybe superior?) shuttle and rocket system that the Energiya-Buran indeed was became wasted in the chaos of the end of the Soviet Union. We could have seen Buran class orbiters work along side the STS in orbit constructing the International Space Shuttle.   

Did the KGB Steal the Information to create the Buran Shuttle? 
One of the more famous and compelling topics in the Energiya-Buran Program tragic story is that Soviet intelligence were able to acquire data to feed in their own shuttle project in order to save time and money. There is also the counter story that US intelligence fed the Soviets bad technology in a counter-espionage operation for systemic sabotage. According to some sources, the Energiya-Buran Program had technology and data derived from this CIA counter-espionage operation. At the time that Soviet Orbiter was revealed to the public, the Soviet officials responded to this similarity by saying that the laws of aerodynamics dictated elements of the design. 
This did not stand up though, and it was reversed later by the Russians themselves. Some Russians also claim that the reason for the design similarity is due to the USSR filling the “Shuttle Gap” and that based requirement them to remake the Soviet space shuttle in a similar image…although, there were engineering differences. As the Energiya-Buran: The Soviet Space Shuttle book by Bart Hendrickx & Bert Vis pointed out, “the Russians were not sure what the ultimate objectives of the American program where (pg. 84)”. This meant that the Soviets had to construct a space transport vehicle in a similar fashion to mirror the capability of the NASA STS. With the copying of the NASA STS design and other engineering elements (like the thermal tiles), the USSR saved time and money in filling the Shuttle Gap. However, there some debate on the amount savings. 
In 1985, the CIA issued a report on the effort of the Soviet intelligence services to acquire data on the NASA STS program and the report concluded that the Soviets saved millions of rubles along with years in R&D on their orbiter system. While the familiar players in Soviet intelligence were involved in acquiring information on the US Space Shuttle, there was also agents from the Soviet military-industrial Commission (VPK) that had been tasked with gathering and packaging the information with a budget of half-a-million rubles. As one article on the subject said “the VPK was in the information transfer business” and the majority of that information was available to the Russians without restrictions online…in the 1970’s and 1980’s. 
Many articles pointed to this may be the first example of an online intelligence operation. To hid who they were, the KGB/GRU/VPK used some research centers in Europe as cover. At the time of the first launch of the Columbia in 1981, the Soviets had over 3,000 documents related to the American shuttle program and much taken from the GAO office and walked back to the Russian embassy. An article has described the effort being “shift work” and the printers “were constantly” to funnel the information to their shuttle program. Bottom line? While the USSR acquired mountains of data that was basically available on the American shuttle program, and it did indeed save them time and money, there was enough differences in some of the major systems that caused the Soviets to spend money and time to developed their Buran orbiter. It is interesting story, but it is a little more boring than the headline leads you to believe. In the end assessment, the Soviet did get information on the NASA shuttle program, but we did not make them work hard for it.     

Comparing Shuttles: The Eagle vs. the Bear
Given that the US orbiter program was used by the Russians as a template to construct their own orbiter, how do these two shuttles compare? For internal space, the Buran orbiter was able to fly a crew of 10, while the standard crew of the STS was 8. In addition, the Soviet orbiter could starlift more than the NASA shuttle by a few tons (30 vs. 27). That was more or less to do with the lack of main engines on OK-1K Buran. The STS has three engines that are used during liftoff then there is no more fuel and it relates on its RTS while in orbit. The OK-1K Buran had two small engines in the rear for orbital operations. Two major differences between the Cold War shuttles is that the Buran is that the Soviet space shuttle could operate and land without those fleshy meat-bags and they both had very different rockets to propel them into the final frontier.   

The Relationship between the “Spiral”, the BOR-4, BOR-5, and the Buran
There is a false concept in the West that the USSR military was developing some sort of spaceplane parallel to the Energiya-Buran program that could be used for offensive purposes in an orbital combat scenario. What is true is that the Soviet Unit was working on a spaceplane, name “Spiral” that would be air-launched via from a carrier aircraft and archive orbit, much like the USAF/NASA X-15. First envisioned in 1962, this 9-ton spaceplane would be under development and testing up until its cancellation in 1978. While western intelligence knew some of the story with the Spiral Spaceplane, they seemed not to know that the Soviet military had cancelled the Spiral program in 1978. 
Throughout the 1980’s, Western intelligence and Soviet space researchers were convinced that the Russians were working on a Spaceplane and had been so since 1969 as stated in both a 1980 & 1983 CIA reports. These reports would continue especially after the Australian Royal Air Force P3 Orion aircraft snapped a few photographs of two of the Soviet recovery efforts onboard the Russian vessel Yamal. These became famous in some circles and were even published in the October 1986 issue of National Geographic…which is how I learned of it and the Energiya-Buran program. What that Australian Orion captured was the recovery of the BOR-4 testing vehicle platform for the Energiya-Buran program. The BOR or “Bespilotnyi Orbital'nyi Raketoplan” which translates as "Unpiloted Orbital Rocketplane” was used by the USSR to test their thermal tiles under actual conditions. With Mother Russia being vast in land and not in open water, most of their spacecraft landings have been on land, but that would not work for the BOR-4 testing. While this was a “spaceplane”, the BOR testing mules lacked landing gears…which made the decision to land the BOR testing mules into a large body of water. Some consideration had been made to landing the BOR-4 testing vehicles the Black Sea or Lake Balkhash. 
Due to the lack of experience on the side of the Russians, they needed something vast, like the Indian Ocean. Russian intelligence knew this plan would make it likely that Western intelligence would learn of the testing…and they did, twice. The recovery of the BOR-4 testing vehicles (Kosmos-1374 and Kosmo-1445) by the Yamal were both photographed by the Australian P-3 Orion in 1982 and 1983. These photos of both encounters were released to the public in April of 1983. After this, the Russians tried their hand at landing the further BOR-4 missions in the Black Sea. The BOR-4 missions ended in December of 1984 with the data collected. What is interesting is that the Spiral bodied BOR-4 test vehicles became something studied and nearly replicated by Western space programs. When the plans for the US space station Freedom were still on the books, NASA examined using the BOR-4 design for a crew transport vehicle for the space station and could also be used as a escape pod. This 10-ton spacecraft was named HL-20 and NASA even constructed a full-scale mock-up as well in the 1990’s. This was also known by the name of the NASA "Dream Chaser" spaceplane.  
The successor to the BOR-4 was the BOR-5, which would start in summer of 1984 and run through 1987. The purpose of the BOR-5 tests was to evaluate the aerodynamics of the shape of the spacecraft via a 1:8 sized mockup (3.85 meters long) that would flown within the atmosphere and not just in a wind tunnel. The BOR-5 test vehicles were packed with sensor for real-time telemetry and were successful in collecting the final pieces of data needed to get the first USSR Orbiter into outer space. While some of the BOR-5 test vehicles are in museums, one of them is in private hands.      

The Buran and Orbital Space Warfare 
In 1976, some military and scientific groups within the USSR were gravely concerned that the US Space Shuttle program was a smokescreen for a orbital weapon systems that could space dive onto Moscow and deploy a highly-lethal WMD package over the heart of the Soviet military command, thus, crippling the Reds response to a first nuclear strike scenario by the US and her NATO allies. While this was the Cold War paranoia talking, the Soviets would work on their own lethal military applications of their own shuttle program. One of these was was called the “Buran-B Bomber”. When targeting ground-based targets from border, the Soviets envisioned another battle station using MIR (irony!) modules with docking ports for a stripped down Buran shuttle devoid of wings to be ready and waiting for the order. 
These unmanned combat Buran-B bomber modules would be the carrier vehicle for smaller craft, similar in size to the BOR-4 tester vehicles. However, these little bastards would have been armed with nuclear or other payloads to strike down at their enemies from the heavens with multiple reentry vehicles. The Buran-B bomber vehicle could be then re-docked to the combat station and reloaded with more BOR-4 striker vehicles. This would make the stripped down Soviet space shuttle also an space carrier in some ways. There is also some evidence that a standard Buran shuttle to be outfitted with the BOR-4 vehicles in its payload bay for an launch-orbit-strike-reentry-landing mission for targeting specific dirtside targets without the construction of those space combat stations. There is no evidence that this concept of the Buran-B bomber or the "space carrier" moving beyond the concept phase.    
Another aspect of the Energiya-Buran program being used to counter the US SDI program was the rumored "Uragan" (Hurriance) Spaceplane-Interceptor that was based on the BOR-4 seem recovered in the Indian Ocean and was to be part of the Soviet SDI program. According to Western intelligence, the Uragan Space Interceptor was to be mounted and launched via the Zenit rocket and was to be armed with an Nudelmann N-37 recoilless gun and space-to-space missiles or kinetic impactors. The technology of the Engeriya-Buran program would have been fed into this rumored spaceplane. If we extend the concept further, it could have been possbile the Buran shuttles been modified to carry one into orbit to either be docked to those combat space stations or used in immediate target destruction. 
In addition to this, the shuttles of the program were going to be a used to deploy and maintain two different manned space anti-satellite short-term "battle station": the "Skif" (laser DEW platform) and "Kaskad" (missile platform). Both of these station would have been based around the MIR (which means "peace" in Russian ironic twist here) and Salyut stations. Both of these would have been put into orbit during times of open warfare or just before and when given the order, these stations would strip the satellite capability from the US and NATO. Both were to be designed to fit into the Buran shuttle payload bays and then after deployment, the Energiya-Buran vehicles would refuel and resupply the battle stations. This idea was cancelled and the new idea was the "Polyus" space laser module being developed and the Energiya rocket was the lifting platform for the space laser Polyus platform. The test flight for the Polyus was conducted in May of 1987 and failed to deploy correctly, burning up in the atmosphere. The Polyus project was cancelled after the fall of the Soviet Union.     

The Surviving Elements of the Soviet Space Shuttle Program
Within the massive Energiya-Buran program was several other items worth discussing that survived the cancelling of the shuttle in one form or another. The largest airplanes ever built was designed to work within the Energiya-Buran program, the Antonov An-225 "Mriya". Only one was constructed and if the Energiya-Buran program had been continued, it could have been used as a air-launch platform for a spaceplane under consideration. Unlike the tragic fate of the OK-1K Buran, the Mriya is still flying to this very day. And yes, the Mriya is larger than the Hughes H-4 "Hercules".   
Another piece of the Energiya-Buran program was the "Strizh" (Swift) pressure suit for use with the Soviet orbiters. This suit was designed to allow the crew of the orbiter to survive ejection at MACH 3 and 18 miles up. Designed by NPP Zvezda in 1981 and according to some reports, two dummies were dressed in the Strizh suits and placed in the OK-1KBuran cockpit for the November 15th, 1988 launch. This tested the suits under real conditions. To make sure that the suit could work under the extreme ejection conditions, one of the suits was launched into the atmosphere by a Soyuz rocket. Even after the cancellation of the Energiya-Buran Program in 1993, the Strizh suit was used for some pilots in the Russian air force to this day. 
Then that brings us to the Energiya rocket platform. Developed as a super-heavy launch rocket platform for the future of the Soviet rocket program, the Energiya was to be the future...then it wasn't. What made the Energiya unique was the central core with four RD-170 kerosene/LOX burning rockets surrounding the core and the payload like the Buran orbiter or the space laser platform. Developed by NPO Energiya after the Soviet moon program was shut down along with the rocket that was going to carry Cosmonauts to the moon: the N-1. Able to push large payloads ( into tons in LEO!) outer space, it could have been used to launch the Buran class shuttle fleet, pieces of the planned MIR-2 space station, construction of orbital weapons platforms or even a Mars spacecraft. Sadly, the new Energiya rocket platform was only launched twice before the fall of the USSR. Once to launch a SDI laser platform, the Polyus in May of 1987 and the other, to launch our friend, the OK-1K Buran orbiter. While the Energiya rocket was a success, it was the fall of the Soviet Union that caused the end of these rockets. Pieces of the technology are used for the Zenit rockets and a planned new super heavy rocket platform for a possble luna base.  

Why do some of the Buran Shuttles have Jet Engines? 
Photo by Yoel 
As we stated above, one of the key differences between the Soviet space shuttle and the American STS Orbiter, is that the Buran shuttles lack booster engines, like those on the American shuttle. However, there are some Buran shuttles have engines mounted on the spacecraft...so why do some of the Energiya-Buran program shuttles have engines? Both the NASA Orbiter and the USSR Orbiter needed to be tested in approach and landing (ALT). For the NASA STS that test vehicle was the OVA-101 Enterprise and for the USSR, that is the OK-GLI BTS-002 (the *get a deep breath* Orbital'nyy Korabl' dlya gorizontal'nykh Lotnykh Ispytaniy Bolshoy Transportnyy Samolyot or the "Orbital ship for horizontal flight tests Big Transport Airplane") of testing platform aircrafts.
Fuel tank. Photo by Yoel 
While the Enterprise was a beautiful taxpayer funded glider that was transported to the big blue sky via a modified Boeing 747, the BTS-002 was beautiful people's guilder equipped with four jet engines that were originally developed for the Sukhoi Su-27 superior fighter. However, the USSR lacked a plane big enough to get the BTS-002 into the sky for the tests due to the An-225 Mriya not existing yet (terribly inconvenient if you ask me). To solve this issue, two different types of jet engines were attached. Two on the nacelles were the afterburners optioned Lyulka AL-31F turbofan engines and two were Lyulka AL-31 engines without the afterburners were attached to the rear of the shuttle and the weight was reduced to allow for the BTS-002 to take off like a plane and then turn off the engines and glide for the landing to gather data. The fuel tank for the engines was located in the payload bay. From 1984-1988, the BTS-002 was extensively tested, far longer than the OVA-101 Enterprise, and then was retired. Today, the BTS-002 lives at Technik Museum Speyer, Germany and where Yoel took some photos of it (Totally jealous). There was another attempt to mount endoatmospheric engines to the Buran shuttles near the fin assembly to allow for some margin of safety during landing operations.
If the Buran needed a redo with landing, the two jet engines could accommodate that. These were same as the jet fighter engines used in the BTS-002 atmosphere tester, but they were not attached to the launch of the OK-1K Buran due to technical issues associated with adapting these atmospheric engines for space and reentry. Then there was the issue for increasing weight for fuel and increased complexity. For those reasons and the successful landing of the OK-1K Buran in 1988, the engines would have likely been never installed on the OK-1K  Buran or her sister shuttles.  
The First and Only Buran Launch: November 15th, 1988
The first and only launch of the Energiya-Buran was broadcast on Soviet TV with a delay, just a few months after the Soviet government made the existence of the shuttle public. While the original launch date was scheduled for October, the launch had been pushed back several times until the weather was mostly favorable on a cold weather November at 4am GTM. This flight was completely unmanned, unlike the first space flight of the Columbia in 1981 that had a crew of two. The space shuttle achieved orbit and made two complete orbits before going into reentry mode. As the vehicle came near the landing site at Vympel at Baykonur, MiG-25s gave chase and filmed the landing for state TV. With the computer in the pilot’s seat, the OK-1K Buran came back to Mother Russian under strong crosswinds and one cannot be anything but impressed at the automatic flight systems. 
In total, the mission of theOK-1K  Buran OK-1K shuttle was 3 hours 25 minutes long and all operations were preformed by the automatic systems. After the launch, the shuttle made the global news and was a moment of triumph for the Soviet space program.  Only seven of the thermal titles came off in total, which was better than the Columbia’s 16. The vehicle was evaluated and readied for the 1989 Paris Air Show and sadly, the OK-1K Buran would never fly again. 

Why was the Buran Shuttles Never Used Again after 1988?
When you step back and examine that the Energiya-Buran program cost the Russian people some 14.5 billion Rubles and then realize that before the Energiya-Buran program was ended by President Boris Yeltsin around 1993, it only had flown one unmanned mission. That is a lot of cash for a single space shuttle launch (for the record the NASA STS had 135 launches). For some involved, the failure of the new Russian government to fund and continue the Energiya-Buran program after 1993 was akin to the failure of the Soviets not landing a man on the moon. For some, Energiya-Buran program represented the apex of the manned Russian space program and it was all down hill from there. So, why were the Russian space shuttles never flown again after 1988? 
The plan had been for the Energiya-Buran program to fly some ten missions during the testing phase with the first manned mission coming in 1991 with two cosmonauts and with two more manned mission in 1992. However, the fortunes for the entire Soviet Union were changing with republics breaking away, the extremely unpopular war in Afghanistan, and the downturn in the USSR economic health. From 1989-1991, the Energiya-Buran program was fighting for survival in both government meeting rooms and in the court of public opinion. Newspapers published articles on the massive amount of money spent on this shuttle program that was basically aimless and only developed due to paranoia about the NASA Space Shuttle program and its military applications. 
Just has another launch was being planned with the nearly finished OK-2K "Ptichka" in May of 1991, the USSR was cracking and by late summer, there was an attempted military coup. By the time the situation was more stabilized, there were meetings about the future of the new established Russian space program and President Boris Yeltsin was not a fan of the entire Energiya-Buran program. With a lack of money and the effectiveness of the Soyuz capsule system, the Energiya-Buran program was basically cancelled in 1993. What remained for the program was simply stored away and left to gather dust. 

What Happened to the Soviet Space Shuttle Fleet After Cancellation?

This was the atmospheric testing that is similar to the STS OVA-101 Enterprise. Since the cancellation of the Energiya-Buran program, it has been something of a world traveler. It was at the Sydney Olympics, then Bahrain, and then on to Germany. The BTS-002 is presently at the Technik Museum Speyer in Germany since 2004. Its fate could have been different if it had been sold during that auction though. 
OK-1K "Buran"
After the November 1988 launch and automated landing, the OK-1K Buran was moved around for testing, review, and processing. It was seen again by the general public at the 1989 Paris Air Show on top of an Mriya carrier plane. After that, it was moved to a hanger at Baykonur. It was again rolled out for the 30th anniversary of Gagarin's flight into outer space in April 1991 and there were plans to take it to America in 1992. It would be housed at MIK OK for sometime until it was decided to mate the Buran to a mockup of the Energiya rockets at the MIK RN bay 4 in the summer of 1998. On May 12th, 2002, the roof collapsed and not only destroyed the Buran orbiter, eight were killed. 

OK-2K "Ptichka"
When the hammer came down on the Energiya-Buran program, the 2nd Soviet space shuttle was about 95%-97% complete. It did get two weeks for testing with some of the Energiya rockets in May of 1991 along with some testing firing. However, the Ptichka was moved into the massive assembly and fueling building (MZK) at Baykonur along with the OK-MT at around 1991 and this is where the OK-2K gathers dust to this very day. This shuttle has become a bit of an internet celebrity due to some people illegally entering the MZK building and capturing video of these two relics of the USSR space shuttle  program.  

OK-3K "Baykal"
The 3rd of the planned original five Buran class orbiter was rumored to be called "Baykal". At the time of the cancellation of the Energiya-Buran program, the OK-3K was around 30% complete and work had not been done on it in two years. In preparation for the 2011 MAKS airshow at Zhukovsky, the 3K was restored to some degree, but it was not included in the MAKS at all. It is still there at the Zhukovsky airport to this day. Some of the heat tiles were removed and sold on the internet. 

OK-4K and the OK-5K 
In May of 1989, the USSR defense council decided to reduce the number of space shuttles from the original plan of 5 to 3, thus leaving OK-4K and OK-5K in limbo. The fate of OK-4K was to be stored at Tushino factory for some time and then it was put outside the hanger. About 10%-15% was finished on OK-4K and no name was chosen. There was some thought devoted to making the 4K or the 5K into an underwater training skeleton, like what NASA has, Not much is known about what happened to OK-5K and there are no photos of the little that was constructed before it was halted. It is assumed that was there was disassembled and sold off. Much like OK-3K, 4K and 5K had some of their parts find their way on to internet. 

Built in 1983 for engineering testing of all manner along with some training of the possible Engergiya-Buran program cosmonauts. She also has a sister shuttle, the OK-ML1. After these tests, the OK-MT was transported to the assembly and fueling building (MZK) at Baykonur for some integration tests with the Energiya booster assembly. After the cancellation of the entire program, the OK-MT was entombed along with the OK-2K from the early 1990's until to this very day. 
Much like her entombed sister, the OK-ML1 (AKA: OK-M or BTS-001) was an 1982 engineering testbed for the space-worthy orbiters for temperature and mechanic testing. Once the program was cancelled in 1993, the OK-ML1 was left to rot outside on a concrete pad on Baikonur from 1988-2007. Finally, the OK-ML1 was given some respect in 2007 and restored and made into a display piece for the Gagarin Museum at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. 
This was yet another tester vehicle for the shuttles space-bound fleet. OK-TV1 was tested for seal and thermal testing for the several environmental conditions that the Soviet orbiters would be going through and little information seems to be available for it. It is partly disassembled and at the NIIKhimMash rocket test area, This photo is from www.buran-energia.com website and it seems to be the only one floating out there. 
This was another tester orbiter that was designed to test some element of the Soviet orbiter and OK-TVA was designed for structural and thermal testing. After the end of the program, around 1997, the OK-TVA was parked at Gorky Park and was even a restaurant at one point! Then it was moved in 2014 to outside display at  Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy (VDNKh) in Moscow.  
Again, this 1982 tester orbiter was designed to test some element of the Soviet orbiter and OK-KS was designed to test aerial transportation and some software and hardware systems related to electronics. For some time, the OK-KS was stored outside Engeriya plant then it was moved to become a display piece outside of the Sirius Science Center in Sochi, Russia. 
The Wooden Wind-Tunnel  Tester
For wind tunnel testing of the aerodynamics of the orbiter, the USSR constructed a 1:3 scale wood tester vehicle It was at the Zhukovsky Airfield until 2013 when it destroyed likely to it rotting away. According some sources, the USSR space program construct 85 wind tunnel model of all sizes with this one being the largest. Interestingly, the wooden 1:3 shuttle tester was constructed with the extra engines. 
The Ideas for the Buran Resurrection
Even after the 1993 cancellation of the Soviet Space Shuttle program by the post-Cold War Russian government there has been talk throughout the years to restart the program and bring the former Soviet space shuttles back to glory. While some of these talks were held during the mid-1990's has plans for the international space station firmed up, ending the MIR-2 and Freedom space station projects. It was believed that the Engergiya-Buran program could be restated easily and allow their shuttles to work along side the STS Orbiters in assembly the new ISS. This idea of a Energiya-Buran resurrection reached the level of being mentioned in press articles in western papers and websites during the Post-Columbia destruction in 2003 and all the way to 2005.
 In an 2005 interview, Alexander Medvedchikov, deputy head of the Russian Space Agency said that with the US space shuttle fleet being grounded, there was some discussion about using the Buran and her unfinished sisters to fill the gap left by the STS. "If tasks emerge which this system would be capable of fulfilling, then I think it would be possible to revive this project," he said. "In my view, this system is significantly better than the [U.S.] shuttle, because the shuttle can only work in conjunction with a specific booster.” The restart of the Engergiya-Buran program would have required money from the US (irony again), but there was another major issue: the destruction of the only 100% flight-test Russian Space Shuttle, the OK-1K Buran, in May 12th, 2002 when snow (irony again again) overloaded the roof in Site 112 in Baikonur and it collapsed. That means that the other orbiters, in various stages of completion, would have be dusted off and completed if this idea had gone forward. For the record, the Ptichka (OK-1.2) orbiter was 95%-97% complete when the program was halted in 1992/1993. This likely is the orbiter that Russian space program officials are discussing in the 2003-2005 interviews. 

Appearances of the Buran and/or Soviet Space Shuttles
The Soviet Space Shuttle concept and/or the Buran herself have an interesting and varied history of appearances in various media. Here the best list that Yoel and I could compile.

In the 2012 Children's book "In the Sky"!
One of the children's books my four-year old daughter had in her bookcase was the book "In the Sky". Published by in the UK by Transatlantic Press in 2012, the book features the Soviet Space Shuttle along with its Engeria booster rocket system on the second to last page. It appears to be a model of some kind. I have no idea how this rare example of the Soviet Space Shuttle came to be in this book...but, there it is. 

The Shuttles attached to the Golden Age Terran Colony Ship from Destiny
I am a big fan of the original Destiny game and I've playing for years now along with researching the rich world that game inhabits. In the Russian map, we see a collection of massive ships with shuttles attached to the spine of the massive craft. In the lore of Destiny, the Golden Age for Terrans under the Traveler was a time of technology expansion as well as colonization of the Sol System via those odd-looking starships. At one time, before The Collapse, humanity was readying itself for extra-solar system colonization. These plans were put into action when the Darkness appeared and ushered in the Collapse of the Golden Age and damaging of the Traveler. During this time, every ship that could get off-world attempted to do so and some of these refugees became the Awoken. On Earth, several Exodus missions were planned to get some of humanity out of the solar system: Green, Blue, Red, and Black. These Colony Ships were equipped with AI cores and their missions failed with all hands lost. These massive monuments to the Golden Age can still be seen in Russia and they been part of several campaign settings as we witness in The Taken King in the hunt for the stealth drive. The shuttles attached to the Colony Ship remind me heavily of the Buran and the Shuttles from Moonraker.     

The "Little Wing" Mission from Rainbow Six Eagle Watch Expansion Pack
The first expansion pack for the original Rainbow Six PC game was released on January 31st, 1999. These five new missions were take place in the year 2001 and featured new RAINBOW Operators and weapons. Unlike the original game, it was never released on the home console market. The first mission in Eagle Watch was called "Little Wing". Taking place on March 10th, 2001, the mission was rescue the seized launching pad facility in Kazakhstan from a group of terrorists and prevent the destruction of a Russian Space Shuttle(!). The mission is conducted within the launch assembly facility and there is no entry into the Russian space shuttle...pity. According to the Russian writing on the fuel tank, the identity of this Russian space shuttle is no other than our friend, the Buran. What is interesting about this appear of the Buran space shuttle is why the hell is in a 1999 game that takes place in 2001? The Buran and her sisters were not going to be part of the Russian Space Program and the only launch of the Soviet Space Shuttle was in 1988. Very odd. This map was featured in the multiplayer mode as well.

The MA-05HG "Buran" from the Gundam Universe
In the complex universe that is Gundam, the Principality of Zeon had a mobile armor called "the Buran" from around 0079 CE. This is a more heavily armed variant of the MA-05 "Bigro". These are oddball hybrid design of a spacefighter and a mecha. There is very little on the MA-05HG "Buran" Zeon mobile armor, but it was issued in model kit form and does indeed appear to be named for the Soviet space shuttle.  

The Various Soviet Space Shuttle Model Kits, CGI, and RC Model Aircraft 
The Energiya-Buran program is not as widely known outside of some space history geek circles, but there is a demand for plastic facsimiles of the ill-fated Soviet Space Shuttle. Throughout the years, model companies have produced Buran model kits, display pieces, and even some toys. The Buran has also been honored in the realm of video games with it being mocked up and flown in Kerbal Space Program. Other people have virtually constructed the Soviet Space Shuttle in Minecraft and can be downloaded in a GTA video game as "Antonov AN-225 Mriya Buran Carrier".

The Fictional Soviet Space Shuttles from 1980's Thriller-Cold War Themed Books
During the Cold War, there was an extensive market for military-themed thrillers that populated these places called "book stores". The king of this genre at the time was Tom Clancy, but there were others also in the genre that were well-known. In these novels, it was a theme to have the assumed technology of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact be a centerpiece of the events. For example, the MiG-25 in Craig Thomas Firefox. Within these novels during the 1980's was fictional Soviet space shuttles. One of the earliest was the novel Death Beam by Robert Moss from 1981 that had a Soviet space shuttle used to assembly an Soviet DEW platform in orbital space. In 1982's The Red Dove, a Soviet cosmonaut defector attempts to bring an Soviet space shuttle, called "Dove" (AKA "голубь") from orbit to the USA to seek a new life . The list of these examples goes onward and seems to pick up once some details about the USSR spaceplane problems leaked out, like the BOR-4 pictures. One of the best known is Craig Thomas, who wrote Firefox, 1987 novel Winter Hawk. This features a familiar story plot point of the Soviet space shuttle being used to assembly the Soviet mirror of the American SDI program. Oddly, the cover art features a twin finned Soviet space shuttle   

The Columbia class USS Buran from Star Trek: Enterprise
In the extended, noncanon for the Star Trek universe, there is a upgraded NX class called the Columbia class and within those ships, is the USS Buran. There is some assumption within the Trek community and in some of the post-Enterprise series books that the NX class were upgraded during the Romulan War around 2156 and these upgraded NX class were the template for the Columbia class that launched and served during the 2160's. Admiral Archer pushed for this class of United Earth heavy cruiser to be named after the first of the NX class to be lost in service, the NX-02 Columbia. Similar to the naming system for the NX class, there are number of ships of the Columbia class name in honor of Terran space vehicles. Thus, we have the USS Buran of the Columbia class, the second of the class. This ship comes from the Rise of the Federation books from Pocket Books.   

The Cardenas class USS Buran from Star Trek: Discovery
First, let me be clear, as a lifelong Trekker, I do not regard Star Trek: Discovery has canon Trek, much as I regard the J.J. Abrams Trek films as noncanon. Within Disco is the Cardenas class is the USS Buran (NCC-1422). While a powerful a Federation starship, it was destroyed by the "Klingons" during the first month of the Klingon-Federation War. The Buran was featured in the mirror universe episode as well.  

The Challenger class USS Buran from Star Trek: TNG
Within the Parthenon of classes of Federation starships, there some are well-known and well-seen classes in the Star Trek TV shows, while others are obscured. One of the most obscure that was actually seen on screen is the Challenger class from the 2360's (TNG period). This class was related to the Galaxy and Nebula classes, but was not produced in the same numbers as the Nebula class. The only time the class was seen was during the aftermath of the Battle of Wolf 359 when the Enterprise-D flyby burning hulk of the USS Buran (NCC-57580). This ship was a kitbash from a ERTL Enterprise-D model kit combined with submarine parts by Ed Miarecki and was only seen on-screen for a blink-of-a-eye during the fly through the debris field of the battle.
The Actual USS Buran model prior to damaging effect added
The ship was indeed named for the Soviet Space Shuttle and the class was named for the NASA Space Shuttle. The actual model of the USS Buran is still in possession of Ed Miarecki and the internet has mocked up art based on the ship. This as allowed us fans of Federation starship classes to see that the USS Buran lacks one important feature: the deflector array!  Starship porn marker Eaglemoss makes a $24 USS Buran model, which given the Challenger class some much needed attention and love.

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Next Time on FWS...
One of the greatest military science fiction TV series of all-time is the 1990's titan of Babylon 5 and with the lore and universe of the show was the Earth Alliance military: EarthForce. Unlike Star Trek 's Starfleet, EarthForce was a military organization and it is high time to discuss it.  In in the next installment of Future Military Profiles, we will be breakdown the military organization of the 3rd age of man! Much like the Energiya-Buran article, this one will take some time to finish, so stay frosty!  


  1. Brilliant article- thanks for posting it.



  2. To be honest, while I have seen the occasional web search article mentioning a "soviet space plane", my first true introduction of the Buran Shuttle was a YouTube video discussing the various "non-canon" Star Trek ship to bear the name "USS Buran" and how all but one were destroyed in service. That an Andorian captain found it rather amusing or ironic that the ship is named Buran as it also was somewhat symbolic of his own homeworld.

    This blog entry is quite possibly the most detailed description of the Energiya-Buran program and its history. Though it is sad that the once chance it had of having a comeback on the world space exploration state was ruined by a case of snow. Not as devastated to me personally as the cessation of all space shuttle flights, but still within the same ballpark.

  3. Awwwwwsome...
    yet Seventh-Heaven's eternally moe, Curly.