Buran (spacecraft)

Buran ( Бура́н , , meaning "Snowstorm" or "Blizzard"; GRAU index serial number: 11F35 1K) was the first spaceplane to be produced as part of the Soviet/Russian Buran programme. Besides describing the first operational Soviet/Russian shuttle orbiter, "Buran" was also the designation for the entire Soviet/Russian spaceplane project and its orbiters, which were known as "Buran-class spaceplanes".

Buran completed one uncrewed spaceflight in 1988, and was destroyed in 2002 when the hangar it was stored in collapsed. The Buran-class orbiters used the expendable Energia rocket, a class of super heavy-lift launch vehicle.


The construction of the Buran spaceplanes began in 1980, and by 1984 the first full-scale orbiter was rolled-out. The Buran spaceplane was made to be launched on the Soviet Union's super-heavy lift vehicle, Energia. The Buran programme ended in 1993.

Operational history

Orbital flight

The only orbital launch of a Buran-class orbiter, 1K1 (first orbiter, first flight) occurred at 03:00:02 UTC on 15 November 1988 from Baikonur Cosmodrome launch pad 110/37. Buran was lifted into space, on an uncrewed mission, by the specially designed Energia rocket. 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 orbits around the Earth, the ODU ( объединённая двигательная установка , сombined propulsion system) engines fired automatically to begin the descent into the atmosphere, return to the launch site, and horizontal landing on a runway.

After making an automated approach to Site 251, Buran touched down under its own control at 06:24:42 UTC and came to a stop at 06:25:24, 206 minutes after launch. Despite a lateral wind speed of 61.2 km/h, Buran landed only 3 m laterally and 10 m longitudinally from the target mark. It was the first spaceplane to perform an uncrewed flight, including landing in fully automatic mode. It was later found that Buran had lost only eight of its 38,000 thermal tiles over the course of its flight.

Projected flights

In 1989, it was projected that Buran would have an uncrewed second flight by 1993, with a duration of 15–20 days. Although the Buran programme was never officially cancelled, the dissolution of the Soviet Union led to funding drying up and this never took place.


The mass of Buran is quoted as 62 tons, with a maximum payload of 30 tons, for a total lift-off weight of 105 tons.

;Mass breakdown
  • Total mass of structure and landing systems: 42000 kg
  • Mass of functional systems and propulsion: 33000 kg
  • Maximum payload: 30000 kg
  • Maximum liftoff weight: 105000 kg

  • Length: 36.37 m
  • Wingspan: 23.92 m
  • Height on gear: 16.35 m
  • Payload bay length: 18.55 m
  • Payload bay diameter: 4.65 m
  • Wing glove sweep: 78 degrees
  • Wing sweep: 45 degrees

  • Total orbital manoeuvering engine thrust: 17600 kgf
  • Orbital manoeuvering engine specific impulse:
  • Total manoeuvering impulse: 5 kgf-sec (11 lbf-sec)
  • Total RCS thrust: 14866 kgf
  • Average RCS specific impulse: 275 -
  • Normal maximum propellant load: 14500 kg

    Unlike the US Space Shuttle, which was propelled by a combination of solid boosters and the orbiter's own liquid-propellant engines fuelled from a large tank, the Soviet/Russian shuttle system used thrust from each booster's four RD-170 liquid oxygen/kerosene engines, developed by Valentin Glushko, and another four RD-0120 liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen engines attached to the central block.

    Fate and destruction

    In June 1989, Buran, carried on the back of the Antonov An-225, took part in the 1989 Paris Air Show.

    Together with the Energia rocket, Buran was put in a hangar at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.

    On 12 May 2002, during a severe storm at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the MIK 112 hangar housing OK-1K1 collapsed as a result of poor maintenance. The collapse killed several workers and destroyed the craft as well as the Energia carrier.

    Two further Buran shuttles (one for ground use and one that was 90% ready to spaceflight), together with an Energia-M rocket prototype carrier are still stored at the base, according to an article in 2017.