Design issues

Development of this major new programme, known as the Reusable Space System (MKS in its Russian acronym) was entrusted to NPO Energia. While the spacecraft itself ended up looking strikingly similar

ON THE PAD

Buran awaits its maiden flight in the Kazakh desert. The or biter's resemblance to the US i Space Shuttle is obvious, but the rest of the assembly - the long Energia rocket with its four boosters - is unique.

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

The MKS orbiters were mainly built at the NPO Energia factory in Kaliningrad, near Moscow (shown here). They were then flown to Baikonur Cosmodrome piggybacked on a converted Antonov An-225 oircraft.

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

The MKS orbiters were mainly built at the NPO Energia factory in Kaliningrad, near Moscow (shown here). They were then flown to Baikonur Cosmodrome piggybacked on a converted Antonov An-225 oircraft.

to its US rival, its operating principle and launch hardware were quite different. Rather than build large solid rocket boosters, of which they had no experience, the design team soon settled on the idea of a new, entirely liquid-fuelled, rocket system, ultimately called the Energia (see panel, below).

The MKS orbiter itself, usually known as Buran ("snowstorm") after the first of three ultimately built, was externally an almost exact twin of the Space Shuttle. Although the Soviet designers tried to come up with an alternative look, wind tunnel tests soon revealed that NASA had done its job well and the Shuttle was already the best shape for the job. The main difference between the two vehicles was that the Buran orbiter did not carry main engines inside its body, relying instead on the Energia launcher's own powerful engines. This made the system more wasteful than NASA's, but it potentially allowed Buran to carry an extra five tonnes of

APPROACH AND LANDING

Buran glides towards the landing strip under automatic control at the end of its first flight around the Earth. Longer automatic flights should have followed over the next few years, before manned flights in the mid-1990s.

payload compared to the Shuttle and also meant that the Energia could function as an independent launcher, carrying payloads other than the orbiter.

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