All nerds worth their salt know about the Buran. It was the Russian Space Shuttle, that looked like a straight knock-off of the US original a la Concordski, but which actually had considerable improvements over the American horse-designed-by-a-committee.

(In this regard Buran was, arguably, also like Concordski, despite that aircraft's distressing tendency to fall out of the sky.)

Buran wasn't completely liberated from the stupidity of the Shuttle's design. It still sat dangerously on the back of its giant fuel tank rather than in the obviously-more-sensible on-the-nose-of-the-tank position, despite the fact that it didn't have the rear engines that force the Shuttle to be where it is, getting smacked by foam and blown to bits by booster failures.

But the Buran was still better. The Soviet Shuttle program didn't get off the ground, but the hardware was just fine.

Anyway, six years ago I was working at the end of Darling Harbour (I didn't stay there a lot longer...), and was reviewing the then-remarkable, now-pointless Sony Mavica MVC-CD1000 digital camera (it used 77mm CDs for image storage, which was a good idea when a megabyte of memory card cost five bucks, but is ridiculous now that the price is three cents).

And someone came along and parked the OK-GLI Buran aerodynamic test vehicle next to my office.

So I took a picture of it with the Sony...

...and here that picture is.

Click for the full sized version, complete with antique EXIF headers.

After this, that poor old bird got dragged all over the place, and has I think been stuck in Bahrain for some time now. OK-GLI is, however, apparently eventually going to take one last boring sea-and-land trip to a German museum, where it can rest in peace with a Concorde, a Concordski, an enormous Cock, and lots of other neat stuff.

6 Responses to “Russhuttle”

  1. rsynnott Says:

    That Tupolev was actually a knock-off of a UK/France design, of course. And was in some ways superior, as well. Apart from the whole randomly exploding thing.

  2. jasmine Says:

    The Tu144 was most certainly *not* superior to Concorde. It didn't have the elegant curved wing of Concorde, which meant that it needed the canards to remain stable at low speeds. The canards were advanced for the time- surfaces that appeared and disappeared according to different flight regimes, wow- but the Concorde wing was much cleverer, producing effectively different aerodynamic results according to how fast the air was moving over it. It had under-body engines which meant the cabin was much noisier, the engines weren't as efficient (if one can apply such a term to the thirsty-as-all-get-out Rolls Royce Olympus 601s) and it didn't have the entirely awesome dynamic programmed trim system of Concorde, which meant it was much harder to fly. As for randomly falling out of the air, wasn't that caused by being divebombed by a French Mirage spyplane?

    Buran was very different to the Shuttle in that it didn't use an external fuel tank; rather it was strapped to a huge Proton booster. This was somewhat more sensible, because it meant that the engines providing the thrust were not in the orbiter itself, but rather, separate in a booster. Also, Buran didn't use dangerous and not-turn-on-and-offable SRBs. The Buran computers were also somewhat more advanced. As it turned out, the Russians correctly decided that a reusable orbiter was a bit of a liability, and that depending on fragile reusable thermal protection systems was not a great idea, so they dropped the whole plan and went back to Soyuz and on-orbit rendezvous. Poyekhali!

  3. corinoco Says:

    The Buran was a beautiful bird. There is one used as a restaurant in Gorky Park in Moscow, just so young Muscovites can eat their Big Macskies and Coca-Cola (AH! Symbol of Free Western World! - quote, please) and laugh at funny communist rip-off (of course the design of the Buran was independent to the US OVs - a marvelous case of convergent design due to physics and engineering technology of the time).

    The only space-flown Buran (1.01) was tragically destroyed in a hangar collapse.

    Buran's sister ship, the delightfully named 'Ptichka' was 97% complete when the project was abandoned.

    The Russian shuttle program was far more overtly military than the US very-hush-hush program (Hubble? It's just a KH11 pointing the wrong way - why don't THEY have buggered mirrors, and when is NASA going to de-orbit those monsters?)

    The Russian program was also vastly more advanced - Buran flew its first flight unmanned and sustained damage that, well, destroyed Columbia. A fantastic page for the history of Buran is here, which includes some rather awesome film of the one and only launch.

    One of the odd footnotes is the discovery of an Australian Orion crew of this.

    That Orion crew must have had some balls - the extreme closeups were probably downright dangerous to take! AND we complained about the Russians dumping potato peels - for memory we were (and still are) dumping poo straight into the Pacific at the time. Amazing how the 1980's Bor was later copied by the US with the abortive X33 (Ok, yes it does look a lot like Dynasoar and the X24, but then read up on the Spiral...)

    As for Russian spacecraft - if I had a choice, I'd go for a Soyuz ride over a Shuttle ride. Mind you, if I was offered a Shuttle flight I'd seriously consider it, assuming Burt Rutan hasn't already run rings around NASA by 2010!

  4. Dave@ Says:

    Corinoco, your quote should end at "Free West", assuming you're sourcing from one Sayle, A. in "Flood"

  5. Arlo Says:

    My wife and I were in Moscow just this summer and there is indeed "a" Buran in Gorky Park. Of course, every Russian will tell you that it is "the" Buran that flew the unmanned orbit, but I can't confirm that. If it was, they gutted it. The nose cone is completely empty and the ceremic tiles on the outside were replaced with styrofoam "because otherwise people would steal them."

    Instead of a restaurant inside the cargo bay, though, there's an amusmement park ride. (Far more "amusement" than "ride.")

    For a couple bucks, you can experience the thrill of spaceflight! That is, if the thrill of spaceflight is a lot like sitting in a chair and watching a PowerPoint presentation projected onto a screen in front of you. Through speakers loud enough to be painful, a Russian voiceover takes you through images of the original launch and landing as well as talks you through dozens of Ken Burns' effects on Earth-from-orbit photographs.

    Hands down the best part: Asteroids appear on screen, flashing blue lights and sirens go off, and our ticket taker, displaying perfect communistic ennui, appears from the back of the cargo bay, individually unlocks our gyroscopic chairs and literally shakes each seat by hand before moving on to the next person.

    It was a sad, sad ride, but I'm a better man for having sat through it.

    Some Photos:
    Exit from the ride
    No more cockpit
    Buran's wing

  6. bbfreak Says:

    As for Russian spacecraft - if I had a choice, I’d go for a Soyuz ride over a Shuttle ride. Mind you, if I was offered a Shuttle flight I’d seriously consider it, assuming Burt Rutan hasn’t already run rings around NASA by 2010!

    That was quiet educational, at least until the end. No doubt Burt Rutan is a genius, but it's just silly to completely forget about the X-15 (at least when it comes to rocket space planes). The lacking in the American space program has never had anything to do with brilliance though or a lack of it. We've always had the right people, its just that politicians and people who mostly aren't qualified to make such decisions about the space program have hampered it. NASA can only do what they're told to do by the idiot politicians, and while they own some of the fault to this situation they do not own it completely.

    Then again that's what you get when when you try to make human beings go against their nature. A lack of funding, and experts who are superseded by morons (Quiet the opposite when it concerns war). Which is why the Apollo Program wasn't underfunded, because of course the politicians fully supported a political mission). I mean do you honestly believe that without military backing the Buran would of at the least been built correctly? Indeed, the military in the US made the shuttle a joke as far as scientific use goes. With all the top-secret payloads and such.

    Now, I'm not saying that private industry isn't the way to go, it is if a profit can be made (though beyond space tourism, or putting up satellites there is unlikely to be much to make a profit on). Its just that you have to expect this crap from bureaucracy. No matter what country you go to. That being said, you have to give credit where credit is due and to dismiss NASA entirely is moronic.

Leave a Reply