Did you know that there was a space shuttle built in Russia, which has made a few successful flights but then the research project was closed due to lack of funding after theÂ collapse of Soviet Union?
The BURAN orbiter was the first reusable manned space vehicle in Russia. The BURAN orbiter is the space airplane which may descent from an orbit and land to an airdrome. The BURAN was Russian first vehicle capable not only to put pay-loads into Space, but also to provide their orbit maintenance and repair as well as return to the Earth.
The BURAN predecessors could execute only separate roles: VOSTOK and SOYUS vehicles were intended only for crew flights, PROGRESS – for cargo delivery onto the orbital station. Put into the orbit by a rocket carrier of the average size they had modest transport potentials. Whereas the cargo flow on the Earth-orbit line increased and the development of a reusable vehicles of large carrying capacity has become inevitable.Â
The BURAN orbiter is able to put up to 30 tons into Space and to return up to 20 tons of payload to the Earth.
The availability of a cargo compartment of impressive sizes on the vehicle permits to transport orbital station modules or large structures up to 17 m long and 4,5 m in diameter and not only 2-4 crew members but up to 6 passengers can be accommodated in a crew cabin.
Expendable space vehicles perform a ballistic or sliding descent in the atmosphere and parachute landing. The necessity to provide a space vehicle return from the Space and to bring it to the airdrome forced the designers to decide many complex problems.
The gliding descent from the orbit through dense layers of atmosphere has stipulated the necessity to use a principally new reusable thermal protection system designed to sustain 100 flights. For the BURAN orbiter three kinds of thermal protection have been developed:
– “carbon-carbon” material with maximum operating temperature up to 1650 degrees C for the components with the highest thermal load -the fuselage nose and wing leading edge,
– ceramic tiles for parts heating up to 1250 degrees C,
– flexible material for surface parts with the temperature not higher than 379 degrees C.
All of them surpassed by strength the materials used in the USA Space Shuttle construction.
The main differences between the space aeroplane Buran and Suttle-orbiter are follows:
– the automatic landing of Buran from orbit onto airdrome;
– the absence ot the main rocket engine on the orbital aeroplane. The main engine was placed onto a central block of a carrier-rocket ENERGIA which is able to launch into an orbit 120 tonns of payload against 30 tonns for Space Shuttle;
– the hight lift-drag ratio of the space aeroplane Buran is 6.5 against 5.5 for Space Shuttle;
– the space aeroplane Buran returned 20 tonns of payloads against 15 tonns for Space Shuttle orbiter from an orbit to an aerodrome;
– the cutting lay-out pattern of thermoprotection tiles of Buran is optimal and longitudinal slits of tile belts are orthogonal to the flow line. Sharp angles of tiles are absent. The tile belts of the Buran fuselage and fin have an optimal position.
On the photosÂ you can see how the shuttle Buran was transported byÂ the biggest Ñargo airplane inÂ the world, AN-225 “Mriya”.Â
Here is Buran is being mounted to the main rocket.
And then transported to the launch site.
Here is Buran is ready to take off.
This is the Buran development team.
And here are the videos of the first Buran take off and landing.
It could be a very successful project of Russian Space Exploration era in general, if the Soviet union lasted a little bit longer or if the modern Russian could find a way to fund it.Â