Secret Soviet Space Ships
November 15, 2013 5:28 PM   Subscribe

Gratuitous self-link: Here is a blog post I made of collected Buran photos inside Baikonur Cosmodrome before roof collapse.

BTW I still get a sick feeling in my stomach thinking about the gut-wrenching loss of these lovely Russian proto-spacecraft.
posted by Mike Mongo at 5:53 PM on November 15, 2013 [9 favorites]

PS Buran-Energia is pretty much the source of Sources for everything Buran.
posted by Mike Mongo at 5:56 PM on November 15, 2013

Those are yours, Mike? I thought of them right away.

posted by wotsac at 6:05 PM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

The actual shuttle that flew -- Buran OK-1K1, or Shuttle 1.01 -- is gone. It was destroyed in a hanger collapse in 2002, which is the last link there in the post.

Two other exist, Ptichka (OK-1K2, Shuttle 1.02), which is 95% compete and Baikal (OK-2K1, Shuttle 2.01) which is about 40% complete, two others are in parts (what would have be 2K2 and 2K3, more commonly known as Shuttle 2.02 and 2.03,)

Ptichka is in Baikaniour Cosmodrome, the fuselage and wings of Baikal were last seen in Moscow.

The Buran shuttles were very different than STS, in that no main propulsion was in the shuttle itself, only orbital maneuvering and deorbit engines were carried. So, where STS was a rocket that dropped its fuel tanks, Buran was a capsule that rode on another rocket (Energia.)

Still, it fundamentally has the same issues and capabilities as STS -- it was (when coupled to Energia) a 150 ton to LEO launcher than could carry only 30 tons to orbit, but it could bring 15 back, because it always brought back well over 100 tons in the spacecraft itself.

An interesting difference was the landing test model. Whereas the Enterprise was carried aloft on a modified 747 for landing tests, the landing test model of the Buran program, OK-GLI, had four turbojet engines, and could fly on its own power. It didn't fly well, mind you, but it flew much better than STS did.*

* Bricks flew much better than STS did. This is not a clever quip. During reentry, if you dropped a brick from the shuttle at 150,000 feet, the shuttle lands before the brick hits the ground by a considerable margin.
posted by eriko at 6:07 PM on November 15, 2013 [23 favorites]

I don't understand why the Shuttle wasn't fully automated too. Think how much cheaper it would have been if they could try out new things without being 1000% sure it was safe.
posted by miyabo at 6:15 PM on November 15, 2013

My understanding is that there was some resistance to full automation from the astronaut corps. But file that under "things I read on the Internet": Perhaps someone wiser than I can confirm or deny.
posted by bicyclefish at 6:30 PM on November 15, 2013

I like to think that the Russians realized much, much sooner than we did how inefficient and dangerous the shuttle program was. But their current manned space flight success compared to ours is probably 9/10ths political anyway. Still, what a glorious spacefaring nation!
posted by Brocktoon at 7:06 PM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I love looking at pictures of the Buran, but I REALLY love looking at pictures of it on the launchpad, riding on the back of the jumbo jet, or being chased by the chase planes. If you just see a picture of the Buran, it would be easy to mistake it for the Space Shuttle. But once it's on the Energia rocket that looks pretty similar to the shuttle's booster rockets and fuel tank, or on the back of the jumbo jet that looks pretty similar to a 747, or being chased by the little trainer planes that look a lot like the T-38s that would chase the Shuttle when it was coming in for a landing, it's like you've entered a weird bizarro world where everything looks a little different than what you expect.
posted by jonathanhughes at 7:43 PM on November 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

OK-GLI is sitting in the Technik Museum Speyer near Stuttgart Germany. I've walked around/inside it. Kind of hard to believe that model actually was airborne at one time.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:05 PM on November 15, 2013

Well the space shuttle was a manned space program. That was its reason to exist so making it automatic would have sort of defeated the purpose. The Buran, meanwhile was a response to the shuttle program's military capabilities, which had been designed into the shuttle to make sure it received funding and political support. The shuttle-concept would only have been economical if launched very often and the awkward piggy-back configuration was due to speccing it to be capable of delivering military satellites.

The Soviet Union wanted to be able to do match the capability of putting lots and lots and lots of military satellites into orbit so they built the Buran. It didn't matter that it was a knock-off because the Salyut programme was the pride and joy of the Soviet space program. The Buran was just a sideshow.

A cold war weapons system, fortunately unnecessary and left to rot.
posted by Authorized User at 3:37 AM on November 16, 2013

According to the CIA's website the Buran's resemblance to the space shuttle is a result of deliberate US sabotage as part of the same program that tricked the Soviets into stealing plans for flawed turbines, etc.
posted by jrsnr at 3:45 AM on November 16, 2013

When I first found the link I just posted a year or so ago I couldn't find any more information, and I just failed again. The CIA's reference is an unspecified conversation with former NASA administrator James Fletcher. In many other places there is speculation that the design is the result of spying, but this is the only place that implies that it was deliberate CIA sabotage, and it's on the CIA's official website!

But James Fletcher died in 1991 and the Buran program was cancelled in 1993, so the referenced "conversation" would have been contemporary to the program and, I'm sure, classified. I'm not sure why this fact isn't mentioned more in Buran articles. Equally fascinating and frustrating.
posted by jrsnr at 3:58 AM on November 16, 2013

Ah, the STS and Buran, they seemed like such a bright, space filled future, to this kid. But in retrospect, the Russians seem smarter for quickly dumping the program and slowly upgrading their '60s era technology, rather than rebuilding not one, but two spacecraft from scratch (STS and Orion/SLS). Soyuz looks like downright genius these days, with with automated docking, the three module design and use of solar power instead of fuel cells.

America won the Moon but then lost focus on impractical dreams. It will be interesting to see how China proceeds.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:17 AM on November 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here are some Buran photos I found in a thrift store in Pennsylvania.
posted by Toekneesan at 12:51 PM on November 16, 2013 [1 favorite]'s on the CIA's official website!

Well, technically it's on their library's sub-site, and as a library it should probably be assumed that inclusion doesn't imply endorsement, just that it's a holding that would be of interest to that community.
posted by Toekneesan at 1:07 PM on November 16, 2013

a friend:
"imagine being in the soviet space agency in the 80s and having all these cool plans and then your superiors come in and say “we need a shuttle and an ABM system cause america’s doing that” even though neither of those are useful and then they don’t even work out and your country collapses and there’s no money to run the program at all and the last decade of your life has been a horrific waste of time and you’re just sitting there, staring at the hollowed out shell of the buran, wondering how it all went so wrong."
posted by p3on at 2:35 PM on November 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

was the an-225 developed for this project? that lives on as a super-heavy transport even today.

great post, i love soviet space stuff and have been having fun launching soyuz, energia+buran and even the N-1 in kerbal space program!
posted by joeblough at 4:40 PM on November 16, 2013

posted by Mike Mongo at 8:58 PM on November 16, 2013

was the an-225 developed for this project?

Yes. In fact, only one was ever completed (another was partially completed). Because of the location of the Antonov factory after the USSR broke up, it is a Ukrainian asset today.

According to the CIA's website the Buran's resemblance to the space shuttle is a result of deliberate US sabotage

Oh, that is pernicious nonsense. The vehicles resemble each other superficially due to some basic aeronautic principles relating to their intended purposes, which were broadly similar. The innards are completely different and while I can imagine some of the decade-long engineering build-up to a space plane largely conducted under the auspices of the USAF could have been of some use to the Soviets, in the end they went with technology that more closely resembled their existing program and elected some critical differences. To suggest that in the face of all that detailed rocketry and electronics they still chose an airframe out of some misguided understanding of doctored CIA fake-outs just beggars the imagination. If you're stealing technology you're stealing the important bits, not the paint job.
posted by dhartung at 10:24 PM on November 16, 2013

There is a pretty fab Russian documentary on Youtube, part 1 and part 2. The poster has others in his stream. Very lugubrious Russian v/o with no subtitles, alas, but tons of great footage from construction onwards, and the finest Slavic soft-rock/prog/disco/synth soundtrack you could wish for.

Another compilation of footage and animations is here. Most notable bit is at 0:55 onwards, where Buran deploys a fleet of mini-shuttles that proceed to bomb the bejeezus out of the south of the USA. I shit you very much the not.
posted by Devonian at 8:58 AM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

BBC News:
China space: 'Jade Rabbit' lunar mission blasts off

The Chang'e-3 mission blasted off from Xichang in the south at 01:30 Monday local time (17:30 GMT Sunday).

The Long March rocket's payload includes a landing module and a six-wheeled robotic rover called Yutu (月兔, or Jade Rabbit).


If successful, the mission, aimed at exploring the Moon's surface and looking for natural resources such as rare metals, will be a milestone in China's long-term space exploration programme, which includes establishing a permanent space station in Earth orbit.
posted by XMLicious at 12:48 PM on December 1, 2013

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