Space: 1989
September 13, 2007 9:20 AM   Subscribe

Some photo galleries (and youtube video) of Buran, the USSR's space shuttle program (previously) from the 1980's, long since abandoned. Bonus: A comparison between Buran and the US space shuttle. Double Bonus: More on Buran from, which is awesome. Combo breaker: An official page with NASA's take on Buran, (and their photos), frozen in time a decade ago.
posted by dersins (25 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
thanks for the links, i love russian space stuff.
posted by joeblough at 9:28 AM on September 13, 2007

Wait...what? How did I never know there was a cheap Russian knockoff of the Shuttle? It even has the same paint job! WTF
posted by DU at 9:29 AM on September 13, 2007

Wow, what cool images. Fascinating to compare the two rockets. Good to see pictures that detail the differences and similarities. Yet another interesting post dersins.

As a visual contrast, Strap-on stealth jetplane for special forces.
posted by nickyskye at 9:37 AM on September 13, 2007

Was there every a definitive answer as to whether Buran was built from stolen plans?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:43 AM on September 13, 2007

Also, this is sadly funny:
After a single flight in 1988, the program quickly ran out of funds, as the Soviet Ministry of Defense fully realized the lack of purpose for the system, compared to its tremendous cost.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:47 AM on September 13, 2007

ps, Very interesting comments in the thread following the images in your first link. More images of Russian space ships. Molniya, a Russian rocket manufacturer. A Russian Buran site. A neat image of Buran's insides.
posted by nickyskye at 9:49 AM on September 13, 2007

Similarities to NASA Space Shuttle.
posted by itchylick at 9:49 AM on September 13, 2007

Was there every a definitive answer as to whether Buran was built from stolen plans?

Not that I'm aware of, although it seems likely - and it was an unfortunate move on the part of the Russians.

They had very capable engineers with original plans of their own, but they invested way too much time and money into copying this craft which by all accounts was a ship designed to be everything to all US stakeholders and thus ended up not being terribly useful to anyone.
posted by Zinger at 9:52 AM on September 13, 2007

Very interesting post - thanks! - although I am embarrassed to admit that every time I read about the Russian/Soviet space program, I flash back to this Onion article.
posted by mosk at 9:57 AM on September 13, 2007

Really interesting post. So our old competitors abandoned their Space Shuttle program, what, fourteen years ago? And now they're working on Klipers and other cheap, reusable spacecraft...seems like NASA could take some lessons from these fellows.
posted by Anduruna at 10:08 AM on September 13, 2007

Great post. I love Russian space stuff.

"Was there every a definitive answer as to whether Buran was built from stolen plans?"

It wasn't, but the aerodynamic shape is so similar I'm sure it was lifted from the US shuttle design. The structural design of the Buran is very different, and the Russians decided to take a very different approach with the concept (The engines are on what would be the external tank on a US shuttle, which meant they got a shuttle AND a heavy lift booster, which is what we're only doing now with the Ares V.) which made it a very different vehicle under the skin.

Only one orbital flight was made with the Buran, and the vehicle which flew in space was destroyed when the roof of the building it was being stored in collapsed after a heavy snowstorm. (scroll down to the bottom of the page.)

More cool Russian spaceships: Klipper, Spiral, TKS and MAKS.
posted by Mcable at 10:18 AM on September 13, 2007

Oh, cool. I just saw a photo of Buran for the first time a couple weeks ago. Thanks for all the extra info.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:22 AM on September 13, 2007

Fantastic stuff. And I love that, on part of the NASA site, someone is using the Star Trek font.
posted by papercake at 10:47 AM on September 13, 2007

So awesome. I had a huge poster of the 9th image on this page in my room during my geeky teenage years. I got it at a Soviet space exhibit at the St. Louis Science Center.
posted by zsazsa at 12:43 PM on September 13, 2007

The shuttle may be a knock-off, but I'd trade our lame old booster rockets for their Energiya any day. MeYOW! Thing looks like it could carry a dump truck into orbit.
posted by kickback at 2:09 PM on September 13, 2007

yeah back in the late 80s/early 90s there was a soviet company called "space commerce corporation" based in houston. they were trying to resell soviet launch services in the USA.

they made a series of posters of images on the page zsazsa links to, and i managed to get a couple of each one. i was a geeky grad student at the time but i too had the posters up on my wall. i should try to find them - they are in a poster tube around here somewhere.
posted by joeblough at 3:04 PM on September 13, 2007

joeblough, whatdayaknow, my poster said Space Commerce Corporation on it.
posted by zsazsa at 3:40 PM on September 13, 2007

cool. i wonder if these posters are worth anything. probably not.

along these lines i've been looking in vain for the official apollo-soyuz NASA poster from that mission - my dad got me one when i was a kid and sometime in college i seem to have lost it.

i just found a larger version of the shuttle vs. buran jpeg that's on the site, if anyone wants it. email is in profile.
posted by joeblough at 4:56 PM on September 13, 2007

Buran logged out:(
posted by vronsky at 5:28 PM on September 13, 2007

Sorry, I don't remember if was a Mefite or linked to by a Mefite, but MetaFilter recently brought me this quotable:
"You know you're in trouble when the Russians are adding safety features to your design."
posted by NortonDC at 6:45 PM on September 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Was there every a definitive answer as to whether Buran was built from stolen plans?

It's pretty clear they had access to detailed structural and technical plans of the Shuttle, but Buran certainly wasn't a strict copy. Much of the similarity comes directly from being designed for a similar set of missions. The irony is that the US Shuttle has clearly been hampered by design choices made in the 1960s (when the NASA and USAF space-plan proposals were merged), which can be said to have had a direct hand in both orbiter losses. Meanwhile the technically superior in some ways Russian space-plane barely flew, while the supposedly inferior throw-away Soyuz just racks up the record flights as a reliable workhorse.

In any case, it remains a mystery to me why the USSR would spend billions of rubles on a technology that showed every sign of having been at least inspired by a Western predecessor. I can only imagine that they hoped by the time it was built it could outperform the Shuttle, so the egg would be on our face.
posted by dhartung at 7:55 PM on September 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

NortonDC - Maciej's cynically lovely history of the shuttle, A Rocket to Nowhere.

One wonders why the Soviets were so keen on copying a "flying brick" design like the Shuttle so closely, when they're already doing so well with the tried and true Soyuz craft and launch vehicle. Check out that Energia configuration: four separating liquid fuel boosters, plus a carrier-rocket rather than an external fuel tank, all freeing the orbiter itself from the extra weight of a main launch rocket which would only be used at the start of the mission anyway. Not just that, but the whole thing was designed to be reconfigurable, able to carry payloads other than the Orbiter.

Ah well, now that the "piggyback" model is retiring in 2010, we can look forward to retro Apollo-style launch stacks which, ironically, will turn out cheaper for their post-mission semi-expendability.
posted by brownpau at 7:57 PM on September 13, 2007

I got a huge laugh at the categories the youtube video was under.
posted by pjern at 7:57 PM on September 13, 2007

dhartung - ^5!
posted by brownpau at 7:59 PM on September 13, 2007

Wasn't there a wind tunnel mockup of the Buran available on eBay a couple of years back?

Also, some good linkage on the previously, including this excellent Where Are They Now? Apparently a nearly-ready orbiter is holed up in Kazakhstan. Where's Borat when we need him?
posted by Ogre Lawless at 5:35 PM on September 14, 2007

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