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Anniversary of the winged Buran

November 15, 2018

The legendary winged Buran! The pride of our countrys rocket and space engineering! It attained world renown through its only flight together with the launch vehicle Energia, and especially through its landing in automatic mode. November 15 marks 30th anniversary of that triumphal mission of Buran orbiter. Listed in The Guinness Book of Records, Buran remains to this day an unsurpassed great creation of tens of thousands of designers, engineers, testers, workers. Since then no one has yet managed to repeat the only onboard computer-controlled flight and landing accomplished by Buran.

The first launch of our countrys first reusable space transportation system Energia-Buran took place on November 15, 1988, from the launch pad of Area 110 of the Baikonur cosmodrome . At 482nd second into the flight the orbiter separated from the Energia launch vehicle and entered orbit. It completed 2 revolutions around Earth and 205 minutes later touched down on the runway of Yubileiny airport. At the time when the Orbiter came to a stop on the runway, its flight program was one second off schedule, and it was off the centerline of the runway by only three meters. The program of the first test flight of the Orbiter was completely fulfilled.

The reusable Buran orbiter became for our countrys space science a fundamentally new flying vehicle, significantly surpassing in design and performance all the spacecraft that had been made in our country before. It featured reusability, new capabilities for carrying out transportation tasks and orbital operations, the use of gliding descent in the atmosphere and horizontal on-the-wings landing on an airstrip, adoption for design and systems of innovative engineering ideas and solutions.

At NPO Energia the design effort to develop an orbiter within the framework of the reusable space transportation system Energia-Buran was started in 1974. It took into consideration our countrys experience in the development of orbital rocket airplanes, but paid special attention to the US project of a reusable space transportation system Space Shuttle.

NPO Energias preliminary studies into Energia-Buran project became the basis for the Government Directive On the Development of a Reusable Space Transportation System Consisting of a Booster Stage, an Orbital Transfer Vehicle, System Control Segment, Launch, Landing, Processing and Maintenance Facilities and Other Ground Infrastructure, which was issued on February 17, 1976. The Customer was the USSR Ministry of Defense. NPO Energia became the prime developer of the reusable space transportation system Energia-Buran, its super-heavy launch vehicle Energia, reusable orbiter Buran and the ground processing facilities.

The work on the reusable system was headed by the General Designer of NPO Energia academician V.P. Glushko, on the Buran orbiter by NPO Energia chief designer Y.P. Semenov, on the Energia launch vehicle by NPO Energia chief designers I.N. Sadovsky, and, since 1982, B.I. Gubanov.

Many years of concerted efforts solved a host of extremely complex scientific and engineering problems. A spacecraft with unique properties was developed.

With the initial mass in space of about 105 tons Buran made it possible to deliver to orbit up to 30 tons of payloads, and with the landing mass of 82 tons was capable of returning to Earth up to 20 tons. The total length of Buran was 36.4 meters, the ground height was 16.5 meters; diameter of the circle circumscribed about the lateral loop of the airframe was 5.6 meters; the wingspan was 24meters. A nominal crew was to consist of 2 to 4 cosmonauts; but if need be it could be increased up to 10 persons. The in-orbit maneuvering capabilities of the orbiter were supported by a significant supply of propellant amounting to 7.5 tons, which could be increased up to 14 tons. The total duration of the orbiter mission could be as long as 30 days. It was designed for 100 missions, in both manned and automatic mode.

The properties of the thermal protection of Buran, including resistance to spaceflight environments, were superior to those of the thermal protection of the US Space Shuttle. To protect the orbiter against overheating during descent, its airframe was covered with thermal protection in the form of tiles (about 38 600 pieces) based on super-thin silica fiber and flexible elements of high-temperature organic fibers, and at the most heat-stressed areas of the airframe and of the wing edge it was covered with a carbon-based structural material.

One of the most complex systems of Buran was its Unified Propulsion System (UPS) using liquid oxygen and synthetic hydrocarbon fuel synthene. All dynamic operations, starting from the time of shutdown of the Energias second stage till completion of the descent in the atmosphere were performed by the orbiter using the UPS. Developers of the new propulsion system managed to solve complex scientific and engineering problems related to the use of liquid oxygen.

RF system of Buran provided continuous communications link with the MCC. Throughout the mission the orbiter was controlled by a system consisting of four computers. The automatic control system of Buran was so advanced, that the crew was only considered as a link that provides redundancy to the automatic equipment, which would free up cosmonauts to attend to scientific research tasks. The main problem in designing the control system was to develop the software which took several years to debug. The autonomous control system, together with the radio system Vympel developed by VNIIRA, intended for high-precision on-board measurements of navigation parameters, enabled descent and automatic landing, including the landing run to complete stop on the runway.

The Buran orbiter, for the first time in our country, used power supplied by oxygen-hydrogen electrochemical generators based on fuel cells with matrix electrolyte, providing direct conversion of chemical energy of hydrogen and oxygen to electric power. The onboard power supply sources output was as high as 30 kW; provisions were also made for an emergency reserve of 300 kWh supplied by storage batteries. Developed in the course of designing the power supply system was the worlds first system for cryogenic subcritical (two-phase) storage in space of hydrogen and oxygen without losses.

Concurrently with designing the orbiter and the launch vehicle, the ground facilities were developed to support the pre-launch processing and the flight. Developed under Buran program were: multi-functional facilities for pre-launch processing, including the processing, integration and fuelling, launch and downrange measurements complexes; mission control center and an automatic system for controlling the flight as a whole, landing complex with a unique runway, joint command and control station and facilities for post-flight processing.

For developmental testing of the orbiter and its systems, to verify their compliance with design specifications, unique experimentation facilities were built and a large scope of tests was completed.

Comprehensive developmental testing of the systems, structure and software was conducted on 800 assemblies and instruments, 100 installations, five full-scale mockups of the orbiter, seven integrated simulators and five flying laboratories.

According to development flight test plan the first four Buran missions were supposed to be unmanned. Starting with the fifth mission it was planned to use an orbiter equipped with a life support system and ejection seats for a crew of two.

Military payloads for Buran were developed on the basis of a secret Government Decree dated 1976 About Research into Feasibility of Developing a Weapon for Conducting Military Operations in Space and from Space. It was assumed that reusable orbiters will become the basis for constructing a space-based strike system. On the basis of Buran orbiter NPO Energia developed a version of an autonomous space-based module with space-to-surface warheads. But for the most part the reusable space transportation system Energia-Buran was supposed to be extensively used for putting into space and servicing in orbit spacecraft for non-military applications.

Buran orbiter structure and systems used engineering solutions that were unequalled in the world. Developed on their basis were new systems, equipment, structural and heat-shielding materials, computers and software, manufacturing processes.

Our countrys rocket and space industry had never dealt with anything that had level of complexity comparable to Buran orbiter: it included more than 600 major units of onboard equipment, grouped together into more than 50 onboard subsystems integrated into a single onboard system; more than 1500 pipelines, more than 2500 harnesses of the cable network, comprising about 15000 electrical connections.

Involved in the development of the reusable space transportation system Energia-Buran were 1,206 companies and organizations belonging to almost 100 ministries and agencies, the largest scientific and production centers of the country.

Based on the achieved results, more than 600 proposals were drawn up for adoption and use in the national economy of advanced systems, new materials and manufacturing processes, machine-tools and appliances, test rigs, instrumentation and many other things.

Development and a successful flight of the Buran orbiter attested strategic capabilities of the country, which made it possible to negotiate arms limitation with the US on equal terms. But in 1990 the work on Energia-Buran was suspended, and on May 25, 1993 the program was finally terminated. The reusable space transportation system Energia-Buran was ahead of its time, the country wasnt yet ready for its use. But the work on the development of this system to this day remains a paragon of concerted teamwork and successful cooperation of all the enterprises in the rocket and space industry.

B.A. Sokolov, council to general director, doctor of engineering sciences, manager in charge of development of the UPS for Buran Orbiter:

The flight of the Buran orbiter clearly validated the chosen engineering solutions, as well as the fundamental organizational and methodological approaches to design and development of the most complex space system Energia-Buran.

V.M. Filin, professor, one of the developers of the Energia-Buran program:

Multitudinous volumes of documentation have already been published by subcontractors, while the rocket configuration still remained in doubt. Single unit or four-tank option for the core rocket stage? So we were going to take the four-tank option to the Critical Design Review. And then, two days before the review, on Saturday and Sunday, everything gets turned around again. Single unit. They had already started building the launch pad, but the location of the second stage engines had not yet been chosen. On the airplane or on the rocket? Doubts, doubts, doubts. And all of this on the quiet. God forbid that HE learned about this. Because Valentin Glushko had no doubts. It had to be a rocket, and it was the rocket that was to carry the orbiter. We were to build a super-heavy launch vehicle within the framework of the reusable space system. This was going to be our main trump card with regard to the Americans.

From recollections of I.D. Dordus, veteran of the company, participant of work under Energia-Buran program:

The flight became our joint victory! It would later become known that the orbiter cross-range deviation from the center line of the runway would be about 3 m, while the down range deviation from the designated point of landing would be 10 m! There is also an explanation for its mysterious disappearance from the monitor screens it wasnt an error of TV people, but rather an actual maneuver of Buran: seeing that the orbiter is approaching the runway at higher than design velocity, its automatic equipment initiated a command to pull away for an additional circle in order to cancel the landing velocity In the opinion of competent specialists, even a very experienced test pilot wouldnt have been able to switch to such a maneuver in a split second.

From the book by V.D. Vachnadze 100 years. S.P. Korolev Experimental Machine Building Plant:

Prime Design Bureau and the Experimental Machine-building Plant of NPO Energia were developing and building the Buran Orbiter as a whole with all the systems needed to support its mission, and performed the final assembly of the orbiter and its test mating with all space systems, manufactured UPS and PSS, as well as provided life support and safety of the crew.
A significant role in setting in motion the Energia-Buran project was played by the chairman of the State Commission, Minister of the General Machine-building O.D. Baklanov.

 

 

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