Buran was USSR’s response to US’s space shuttle program. Though, both of the space shuttle programs are based on the German project called “antipode-bomber”. The meaning of Buran is “Snowstorm” in Russian. In 1970s, the US made the space shuttle program as the important goal to achieve their manned space program. However, it is believed that USSR’s objective was to develop capability to deliver nuclear war heads.

Courtesy: Russian space agency

The Buran orbiter is the space airplane which may descent from an orbit and land to an airdrome. It had no engines and was able to land through gliding. The space shuttle was launched using carrier-rocket Energia (Energy in Russian). The design of the rocket to its landing on the tarmac. the rocket Energia started with the Buran project though its applications were not only limited to the Buran project. The main difference with the US’s space shuttle is that Buran can fly in automatic mode without any pilot on-board, from the takeoff

Buran’s purpose was to:

  • The have the capability to act against enemies using the space in a military way.
  • To conduct experiments to build an advanced space complex (like MIR).
  • To have the technology to safely return the cosmonauts back to the earth.

Buran Technical details:

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
Length                                                                       36.37 meters
Body length                                                                30.85 meters
Body width                                                                 5.5 meters
Height                                                                       16.35 meters
Wing span                                                                 23.92 meters

Technical details about the Buran on-board computer

Characteristics                                                                         Value

Calculation power, op/s                                                              37*10^4
Number of processors                                                                74
RAM capacity
Operational, 32 bits words                                                         131 072
Persistent, 32 bits words                                                           16 384
Number of input/output processors                                             4
Number of lines for the transmission                                           21
Information length between computers, bits                                 36
Sampling frequency of the sensors, MHz                                    0.25
Bus velocity between the 4 treatments units, 36 bits words /s       61 440
Electrical power, Watt                                                               270
Tension, Volt                                                                            27
Working temperature, °C                                                            -10 to +50
Mass, Kg                                                                                  33.6

First launch

The first and only orbital launch of the shuttle Buran was 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 a 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 when the vehicle touched down at Tyuratum. The Buran mission was limited to 2 orbits due to computer memory limitations.

Courtesy: Russian space agency


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. Also, upon Buran’s return it was discovered that it has suffered extensive heat damage during reentry and was deemed too costly to repair. 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.

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