Defence minister Ustinov reacting to a report
that the Space Shuttle could be used to deploy
nuclear bombs over Russian territory.
Buran on launch pad 110/37
<<The Buran spacecraft (Russian: Бура́н, IPA: Snowstorm or Blizzard), GRAU index 11F35 K1 is a Russian (Soviet) orbital vehicle (in Russian terminology: "орбитальный самолет", "orbital airplane") analogous in function and design to the US Space Shuttle and developed by Chief Designer Gleb Lozino-Lozinskiy of Energia rocket corporation. To this day, Buran remains the only space shuttle vehicle from the Soviet Buran program that was launched into space before the program closure. The Buran completed one unmanned spaceflight in 1988 before the cancellation of the program in 1993 and was later stored in a hangar at the Baikonur cosmodrome. On 12 May 2002, a hangar housing Buran in Kazakhstan collapsed, due to poor maintenance. The collapse killed eight workers and destroyed the orbiter as well as a mock-up of an Energia carrier rocket.
The Buran orbital vehicle program was developed in response to the U.S. Space Shuttle program, which in the 1980s raised considerable concerns among the Russian military and especially minister Dmitriy Ustinov
. An authoritative biographer of the Russian space program, academic Boris Chertok recounts how the program came into being. According to Chertok, after the U.S. developed its Space Shuttle program, the Russian military became suspicious that it could be used for military purposes, due to its enormous payload, several times that of previous U.S. spaceships. The Soviet government asked the Russian CNIIMASH
(ЦНИИМАШ, Central Institute of Machine-building, a major player in defense analysis) for an expert opinion. Institute director, Yuri Mozzhorin, recalls that for a long time the institute could not envisage a civilian payload large enough to require a vehicle of that capacity. Based on this, as well as on US profitability analyses of that time, which showed that the Space Shuttle would be economically efficient only with a large number of launches (one every week or so), Mozzhorin concluded that the vehicle had a military purpose, although he was unable to say exactly what.
The Soviet program was further boosted after defence minister Ustinov received a report from analysts showing that, at least in theory, the Space Shuttle could be used to deploy nuclear bombs over Russian territory. Chertok recounts that Ustinov was so worried by the possibility that he made the Soviet response program a top priority.
Officially, the Buran spacecraft was designed for the delivery to orbit and return to Earth of spacecraft, cosmonauts, and supplies. Both Chertok and Gleb Lozino-Lozinskiy suggest that from the beginning, the program was military in nature; however, the exact military capabilities, or intended capabilities, of the Buran program remain classified. Like its American counterpart, the Buran, when in transit from its landing sites back to the launch complex, was transported on the back of a large jet aeroplane - the Antonov An-225 Mriya transport aircraft, which was designed in part for this task and remains the largest aircraft in the world to fly multiple times.
The only orbital launch of Buran occurred at 3:00 UTC on 15 November 1988 from Baikonur Cosmodrome Site 110/37. It was lifted into orbit unmanned by the specially designed Energia rocket, which to this day remains the heaviest rocket running on liquid fuel. Unlike the Space Shuttle, which is propelled by a combination of solid boosters and the Shuttle's own liquid-fuel engines sourcing fuel from a large fuel tank, the Energia-Buran system used only thrust from the rocket's four RD liquid-fuel engines developed by Valentin Glushko. From the very beginning Buran was intended to be used in both fully automatic and manual mode. Although the program accumulated a several-years delay, Buran remained the only space shuttle to ever perform an unmanned flight in fully automatic mode until 22 April 2010 when the US Air Force launched its Boeing X-37 spaceplane. The automated launch sequence performed as specified, and the Energia rocket lifted the vehicle into a temporary orbit before the orbiter separated as programmed. After boosting itself to a higher orbit and completing two revolutions around the Earth, ODU (engine control system) engines fired automatically to begin the descent into the atmosphere. Exactly 206 minutes into the mission, the Buran orbiter landed, having lost only five of its 38,000 thermal tiles over the course of the flight. The automated landing took place on a runway at Baikonur Cosmodrome where, despite a lateral wind speed of 61.2 kilometres per hour (38.0 mph), it landed only 3 metres (9.8 ft) laterally and 10 metres (33 ft) longitudinally from the target mark. The unmanned flight was the first time that a spacecraft of this size and complexity had been launched, completed maneuvers in orbit, re-entered the atmosphere, and landed under automatic guidance.
The Buran program was officially closed in 1993, but Mikhail Gorbachev's negative attitude towards the program left little doubt that its first launch would be the last as well, according to the memoirs of acad. Chertok. Gorbachev did not attend the launch himself and sent a formulaic congratulation from a distance, being on a visit to the Saratov district. Former aerospace and defense workers recall that he often used the word "minarets" to refer to rockets.
In 1989, it was projected that Buran would have an unmanned second flight in 1993, with a duration of 15–20 days. Due to the cancellation of the project after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, this never took place. Several scientists looked into trying to revive the Buran program, especially after the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. More recently, the director of Moscow's Central Machine Building Institute has said the Buran project will be reviewed in the hopes of restarting a similar manned spacecraft design, with rocket test launches as soon as 2015. Russia also continues work on the PPTS but has abandoned the Kliper program, due to differences in vision with its European partners.