Rare Photos of the Russian “Buran” Space Program

Posted: November 25, 2007 in AVIATION, Space Travel

It was the Largest and Most Expensive in Soviet Space Exploration
History – a grand effort and a noble, if not fully realized, dream
The frustrating end to this titanic program
(it was canceled in 1993 due to the political situation and a lack of
funding), and some resemblance of “Buran” to the American space
shuttle, make it easy to forget the impressive results that it
achieved: a fully operational line of shuttles with one (unmanned)
space flight in 1988 and the development of the huge “Energia”
launcher, which is fully capable of lifting 200 tonnes into orbit and
delivering a payload to the Moon.

In other words, this program was something to behold while it lasted. Here
we present rarely seen photographs of the various stages in “Buran”‘s
development and its trial flights, compiled from numerous Russian
sites, including the most authoritative Buran.ru.

(images source: Ochevidec)

The exterior of “Buran” and Space Shuttle “Columbia” may look similar,but
that’s where the similarities end (it’s easy to imagine that communist
spies only managed to photograph a few early airframe designs). “Buran”
was just a payload for the Energia launcher (with many other types of
payloads possible). “Buran” had automatic landing capability and, being
a well-behaved robot, landed itself in 1988 without any problems.

“Buran” carried by AN-225 “Mria” – an impressive combination

The heroic pilot team:

Some “Buran” close-ups:

“Buran”‘s cockpit

Climb inside to experience rickety-looking Soviet computer panels and monitors.
It takes guts to fly into space with these…

Early Concepts of Russian Space Planes

There is some talk about “Spiral” orbital aircraft systems, conceived in the 50s and 60s;

see many other images on this page. Some concepts are also shown on this page (in Russian).

However there is definite information and existing models of the “Burya” system,

(first concepts appeared in 1954) Read more here.

Early “Buran”-like model, made for the aerodynamic testing:

Various early test of transporting spacecraft and hydrogen tank by air, using customized “Atlant” airplane:

“Energia” launching complex
I have to admit, this shot looks like a frame from a Cold War-era sci-fi movie:

But actual reality (in 1983) was far more fascinating (these great photos are from the book NPO “Energia”, see more here)

Locomotives pull the shuttle and the rocket to the launching pad for the communist’s first flight to Mars (just joking)

Apparently, bringing out the orbiter horizontally, pulled by locomotives, and then
standing it up at the launch pad is much faster than American way of
transporting the shuttle already erected.


Do I see some rusted pipes out there? You need more than the usual amount of good luck in Soviet Russia:

Pre-launch moving of “Buran” and “Energia” on rails

Flight of the “Baikal” (top secret or elaborate hoax?)

The same Buran.ru site maintains that there has been yet another flight of “Buran”-like
shuttle, called “Baikal”, performed in utmost secrecy on February 4, 1992.

to them, there is an interesting story associated with the naming of
these ships. Everybody knows that “Buran” means a snowstorm. “Baikal”,
however, was the originally intended name for the program, scrapped in
fears that some of the letters will burn out on landing and transform
the name into “Baika” (which means a fairy-tale, untrue story), or even
worse, into “kal” which means simply “crap”. With “Buran”‘s successful
flight in 1988 these fears were put to rest, so “Baikal” again became a
viable monicker. It’s also worth mentioning that the projected future
ships would also bear stormy names – like “Hurricane / Uragan” and

Original flight plan included meeting with “Mir”
space station, but the ship did not go all the way into orbit. There
were problems with stabilization and at 100 km altitude “Baikal” was
turned back and successfully landed, ending its 22-minute flight.

The following two pictures are simulated:

is a healthy dose of controversy surrounding these facts, bearing in
mind the utmost secrecy of the attempt. However, even if the flight did
not actually take place, the program continued well into the 90s and
amazingly, was not even officially closed… just abandoned. You see,
it takes some significant funds to properly mothball/close the program,
and of course all the funds were already gone.
The “Buran”
program had a chance of resurrection in 2003, when all US shuttles were
grounded, but the equipment and infrastructure were already dismantled
or re-purposed, leaving the whole the idea in sad abandonment to this
very day.

This “Buran” is mothballed in storage, most of the others are effectively destroyed.

The ultimate sad story, I can’t look on this without a shudder.

total spending on this program amounts to $16-17 billion dollars. At
least one of the shuttles is used for vibration testing at TZAGI

slogan in this picture says “Work with Inspiration”, and truly, there
is something grand, noble and inspiring in the best efforts of the army
of engineers, scientists and pilots, even though the fruits of their
labor is seemingly lost.

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