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Soviet version of the Space Shuttle (wikipedia.org)
33 points by cullenking on Jan 27, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 28 comments

One interesting difference from the American program that had always intrigued me is that Buran was carried horizontally on a heavy launch pad with gear to erect the whole unit on the launch site, moving on pretty much ordinary railway tracks, hauled by off-the-shell diesel locomotives, while the Shuttle has to be moved in vertical position, very carefully and slowly, on a very special vehicle, that cannot be done in a stronger wind, and so on. For me, it was always like real version of the american space pen and Russian pencil urban legend. The Russian solution here is obviously superior in every its aspect.

OTOH, the "very special vehicle" already existed from the Apollo program so it was pretty practical to reuse it.

There is actually a lot of history from the Apollo program on why they chose to use what they did. Trains and barges were considered as well as the crawler they ended up using. Remember that Cape Canaveral is on a marsh, and that they had to make a turn between the VAB and the launch pads.

A lot of the infrastructure for storing and moving the Shuttle is inherited from the Apollo program.

Whatever's going on here looks convoluted enough -

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/107/315442494_6d3239a0ff.jpg http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2010/2028067672_2ba6479d74.jp...

Seems pretty hard to tell what solution is 'obviously superior' unless you're a rocket-moving engineer or somesuch.

Supposedly Buran's launch pad is also due to this.

Because it's pad was built on top of an earlier Apollo pad the shuttle launches in the wrong orientation and has to make a roll just after takeoff to head into orbit.

The Russians copied this non-optimal arrangement for Buran believing that there must be some advantage that they didn't know about but Nasa had discovered,

So the Soviets copied this with no more than a shrug of the shoulders? That's kind of hard to believe. Those engineers were just as good, if not better, than the ones in the west...

Any rocket needs roll, pitch and yaw to get into the right orbit, or to reduce stress along a certain axis, or to orient comms antennas towards the ground. Saturn V did this too.

That specific thing does sound a little urban-legendy but there's no shortage of known cases of precise copying of technical details of some design, especially in early iterations or when the copiers didn't yet fully understand what they were copying.

The aspect of this I find more surprising is that the Soviet space program went so far in emulating the entire idea of a reusable space plane, well after it must have become quite clear just from the US experience that it's very hard, very expensive and likely incapable of meetings its original design goals.

They started development in 1974, so only a few years after work on the Space Shuttle started. I'm not sure at what point it became clear that the Shuttle was not living up to expectations, but anyway Buran's development didn't exactly go smoothly either.

This is a better article than Wikipedia's: http://www.astronautix.com/craft/buran.htm

Shuttle needs to be assembled and erected (though in the opposite order?) somewhere and somehow as well. (And requires a giant hall to do so.)

But yes, of course, I tell it mostly as a joke to counter the space pen story. I'm sure that there is some reasonable rationale for this solution.

I think the reason is that the shuttle is using the old Saturn V infrastructure and the Saturn had to be transported vertically. The infrastructure (launchpad, etc) is really expensive, so this was a rather smart choice.

It's likely that the Shuttle design may be lighter as it only has support weight in one direction while the Buran design requires it to have load bearing structures for two orientations.

Wouldn't you want structural integrity in all planes upon landing?

Yeah, but I'm guessing that the stress loads of the entire assembly are quite different than the shuttle by itself.

(again, no facts to back this up, just conjecture)

The Buran was also capable of landing entirely by itself, something I don't believe the shuttle can do even now.

I'm not sure what you mean, can you elaborate? Do you mean that Buran can land without computer assistance?

I mean that the Buran could (and did) land without human assistance. It basically did what the air-forces new toy did earlier this year, but back in 1988.

You mean the pilots could jettison themselves into space, and the thing would auto-land? Or that they didn't need any support ground-side to set it down?

The Buran's single launch was completely unmanned, as in, there were no people in it. Supposedly the software for the UI inside the craft wasn't even installed or operational. The craft landed itself, NASA shuttle style, on a runway.


He means that it didn't need pilots. The one time it was launched into orbit and landed, it was completely automatic.

The shuttle always lands by itself. Looks like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-R2dCWZ92ew

If you've seen the shuttle on the back of a 747, that's just for transport, not landing.

I mean "it lands itself", as opposed to "a human pilot participates in the landing". And not only did it land itself, it was apparently pretty damned good at it too.

Both crafts land on runways, of course I don't think it somehow lands on the back of a 747...

I remember reading about this issue in chapter dedicated the Challager disaster in 'What Do You Care What Other People Think? '. Even in the begining of the shuttle program, the landing was controlled by computer with exception of two things: astronauts had to load the tape with landing instructions into the computer (there was several tapes for various scenarios) and lower the landing gear before touching the ground.

There is one exposed in Germany at the "Technik Museum" in Speyer. The story behind that particular model is quite amazing.

Taken from : http://speyer.technik-museum.de/node/647

"After the end of the Russian space shuttle program, a long odyssey began for the BURAN OK-GLI. In 1999, after 10 years of storage, it was shipped to Sydney where it was exhibited as a tourist attraction during the Olympic Summer Games. Subsequently the shuttle was taken over by an investment group from Singapore who was planning a world-tour with the BURAN. However, the first and last station of the tour was Bahrain. Due to financial differences the shuttle was seized and put into storage in the harbor of Bahrain. In the summer of 2003 the BURAN was acquired by the museum but transport to Germany was delayed because of legal struggles for five years. In early March 2008 finally the time had come - The BURAN was loaded onto a cargo ship. The voyage to the Technik Museum Speyer could begin."


google images reveals some amazing pictures of the transport to the museum.

It's interesting to note that there was a recent story that went around in September about the Buran being "rediscovered" in a junkyard. This is interesting since the traditional history of the Buran states that it was destroyed when the hanger it was stored in collapsed. I don't read Russian so it was hard for me to follow the story so take this with a grain of salt.

source: http://www.mk.ru/photo/social/1090-buran-prinesennyiy-v-zher...

Quick translation: "Even the impossible happens. You'd think that an abandoned spaceship laying on a Moscow street would be something out of science fiction. Alas, it's reality. Correspondent "MK" discovered the Soviet orbiter Buran laying, like garbage, on the outskirts of the capital. Nobody seems to care that at one point it was the symbol of our country's might in space."

(Disclaimer: haven't spoken Russian regularly since I was 10, but luckily, newspapers are written for that sort of literacy levels anyway.)

From the space/engineering/scientific point of view the cold war period was actually quite beneficial to both Soviet Union and the United States. Now, the budget of both US and Russian space programs is like a shadow of its former self. These days some folks in the US are shelling millions of dollars to build a wooden replica of Noahs Ark in Kentucky.... http://arkencounter.com/ I want my cold war back!

I like how the organization behind this wants people to "donate" for their cause, while the ark itself will be owned by a private corporation.

Nice swindle eh?

If the project doesn't work out, they keep the cash donations, if the project works out, they charge people to see it.

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