Category Energiya-Buran

Skif-DM/Polyus

When the idea to launch 6S on a shakedown flight emerged in 1985, the question also arose as to what payload to strap to the side of the rocket. An early suggestion was to fly an empty steel canister (4 m in diameter and 25 m long) which would remain attached to Energiya’s core stage and re-enter together with it. This would have required no modifications to the UKSS to service the payload. However, the Ministry of General Machine Building insisted on flying some kind of operational payload on 6SL. In the summer of 1985 the choice fell on an existing design for a nearly 100-ton spacecraft to test laser weapons in space.

The history of this project can be traced back to 1976, when NPO Energiya was tasked to start research on various types of “Star Wars’’ technology. Not coincidentally, this was around the same time that the Energiya-Buran program was initiated. The research, which essentially was a violation of the 1972 Soviet – American Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, covered three broad areas: anti-satellite missions, space-based anti-ballistic missile defense, and destruction of high-priority air, sea, and land-based targets using space-based assets. Early anti-satellite efforts at NPO Energiya focused on two types of Salyut-derived “battle stations’’, initially to be launched by Proton and later in the cargo bay of Buran. One of these (Skif or “Scythian”) (17F19) was to use laser weapons to destroy low-orbiting satellites, the other (Kaskad or “Cascade”) (17F111) missiles to destroy satellites in medium and geostationary orbits.

Because of the heavy workload at NPO Energiya, the Skif and Kaskad projects were transferred in 1981 to the Salyut Design Bureau (KB Salyut) in the Moscow suburb of Fili, which during that year had become a branch of NPO Energiya after having split off from the rival Chelomey design bureau. For the laser project KB Salyut came up with an entirely new design—namely, a 40 m long 95-ton object that was to be built at the Khrunichev factory and launched by Energiya. The engine section would be a modified Functional Cargo Block (FGB), the main part of the Transport Supply Ships (TKS) originally designed by KB Salyut to transport crews and cargo to Chelomey’s Almaz military space stations, but eventually flown as heavy cargo ships to the Salyut-6 and Salyut-7 space stations.

The ultimate goal was to develop a whole series of Skif battle stations with various types of laser installations. One of these was an infrared laser system called Stilet (“Stiletto”). Developed by NPO Astrofizika, this was intended to knock out the optical systems of enemy satellites, thereby rendering them useless. However, development of these laser systems ran into delays because it was difficult to keep them within the required mass limits. Spurred on by President Ronald Reagan’s announcement of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) in March 1983, the Soviet military decided to develop an interim demonstration version (Skif-D) equipped with a much lighter, 1 MWt carbon dioxide gas laser built at the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy that was already undergoing tests on a modified Ilyushin-76MD aircraft. The plan was to fly Skif-D1 with various auxiliary systems but without the laser itself and fly Skif-D2 with the laser system and use that to knock out small targets deployed from the vehicle itself. The main focus of the Soviet “Star Wars’’ program by now was not anti-missile defense, but to counter SDI by developing a capability to disable the planned American SDI battle stations. This would deprive the US of its missile shield and enable the Soviet Union to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike.

When the opportunity arose to mount a payload on Energiya 6SL, Baklanov ordered KB Salyut in July 1985 to build a mock-up version of Skif-D called Skif-DM (“M” standing for maket or “dummy”). The initial idea was just to build a mock-up of Skif-D filled with sand or water and keep that attached to Energiya or separate it from the rocket for subsequent re-entry. The next suggestion was to place it into orbit for a week-long mission, requiring the inclusion of an FGB assist module and a set of batteries. Finally, Baklanov insisted on a month-long mission to demonstrate some of the capabilities of Skif-D, with the final order coming on 19 August 1985. The hope was to fly Skif-DM (serial nr. 18201) on Energiya 6SL in September 1986, followed by Skif-D1 (18101) in June 1987 and Skif-D2 (18301) in 1988.

In its final design, Skif-DM was actually quite similar to the Skif-D1 demon­stration vehicle, equipped with various auxiliary systems needed to operate a space-based laser, but not carrying the laser itself (contrary to many rumors in the West). The spacecraft was 36.9 m long, had a maximum diameter of 4.1 m and a mass of 77 tons. It consisted of a modified FGB section called FSB (Functional Service Block) and a Payload Module (TsM). The FSB was an available FGB section that had originally been planned to act as a space tug for a now canceled Mir module. It contained all the housekeeping equipment that could not be exposed to the vacuum of space and the engines needed for orbit insertion and attitude control. Mounted on the outside of the FSB were two solar panels. Skif’s FSB section was protected during the early stages of launch by a newly developed fiberglass payload shroud, which had to be jettisoned such that it would not hit Skif or the Energiya rocket.

The Payload Module was made up of a Gas Compartment (ORT), an Energy Compartment (OE), and a Special Equipment Compartment (OSA). In the final Skif-D design, the ORT was to house canisters with carbon dioxide to feed the laser, but in order not to arouse suspicion in the West, the canisters on Skif-DM (42 in all) were filled with xenon and krypton instead. The gases would be released into space and their interaction with the ionosphere could then be explained as a geophysical experiment. The OE was intended to carry two 1.2 watt electric turbogenerators, but since these would not be ready in time for the Skif-DM launch, this compartment was virtually empty. It did have a special exhaust system using gas vanes that would make it possible to release the xenon and krypton without imparting momentum to the spacecraft. The OSA did not have the carbon dioxide laser system, but did carry the acquisition, tracking, and pointing mechanisms needed to find targets and keep the laser pointed at them. This included a radar system for rough pointing and a small low-energy laser for fine pointing. The pointing mechanism was supposed to be mounted on a rotatable platform, but this was not ready for Skif-DM either. The data were processed by an Argon-16 computer similar to the one flown on the Mir space station.

In order to calibrate the sensors of the acquisition, tracking, and pointing system, Skif-DM carried 34 small targets (both inflatable balloons and angled reflectors) that would be released from two small modules almost resembling strap-on boosters attached to either side of the OSA. Fourteen of the inflatable balloons would release barium to simulate the exhaust trails from ballistic missiles and spacecraft. Officially, the deployment of the targets would be explained as a test of an experimental approach and docking system and the release of the barium as a geophysical experiment to study the interaction of plasma with the ionosphere.

Skif-DM also carried four technological and six geophysical experiments not directly related to Skif-D. The technological experiments (VP-1, VP-2, VP-3, and VP-11) were aimed at studying techniques for launching and operating large-size spacecraft. One set of geophysical experiments (Mirazh-1, Mirazh-2, and Mirazh-3) was designed to study the interaction of rocket combustion products with the upper atmosphere and ionosphere during launch and deorbit. Another set (GF-1/1, GF-1/2, and GF-1/3) studied the interaction of artificial gas and plasma formations with ionospheric plasma during operation of the FSB engines. Observations of the geophysical experiments were to be conducted from the ground, sea, and air.

Since the Payload Module contained relatively few operating instruments, temperatures inside could drop to unacceptably low levels, which is why the outer surface was painted black to ensure maximum absorption of solar heat. Painted on the side was the name Polyus (“Pole”), which is apparently how the vehicle was supposed to be announced to the world after launch. After the Payload Module’s

The Skif-DM/Polyus spacecraft: 1, FSB engine section; 2, FSB instrument and payload section; 3, Gas Compartment; 4, Energy Compartment; 5, Special Equipment Compartment; 6, payload shroud; 7, FSB solar panels; 8, gas canisters; 9, momentless exhaust system; 10, acquisition, tracking, and pointing system; 11, bottom view of Skif-DM showing the two modules stowed full with targets (source: Zemlya i vselennaya).

arrival at the Baykonur cosmodrome, KB Salyut engineers also painted the name “Mir-2” on its front section. This was part of a cover story for the mission in which the TASS news agency would describe it as a prototype space station module. There was even some truth to it, because plans at the time did indeed call for the Mir-2 space station to be made up of massive modules to be launched by Energiya. There were two competing designs for such modules within NPO Energiya, one put forward by the central design bureau in Kaliningrad and the other by the KB Salyut branch in Fili. With the latter based on the Skif-D/FSB design, the Skif-DM mission would have provided valuable data for the KB Salyut space station design had it ever been selected.

PREPARING FOR THE MISSION First orbiter roll-outs

After the Energiya pad fueling tests and core stage test firings in 1985-1986, the focus shifted to pad tests of the entire Energiya-Buran system. For this purpose the Russians used two full-scale mock-ups of Buran called OK-ML1 and OK-MT, delivered to the cosmodrome by VM-T carrier aircraft in December 1983 and August 1984. The work began in January-February 1986 when OK-ML1 was mated with the 4M core stage (a stack known as 4MP1) for a series of tests at the Assembly and Fueling Facility (MZK). Several weeks later 4M was united with OK-MT (a stack called 4MP or 11F36P) for more tests at the MZK from 13 to 16 May.

After roll-back to the Energiya assembly building, 4M was reconfigured for a series of fueling and dynamic tests with the OK-ML1 vehicle on both the UKSS and Energiya-Buran pad 37. Both the core stage and strap-on boosters were loaded with simulated propellants. The dynamic tests were necessary because the huge Dynamic Test Stand was still under construction and saw the use of small solid-fuel rockets on the core stage to create vibrations. Dubbed 4MKS-D, the stack spent two weeks on the UKSS (13-28 August 1986) and over a month on pad 37 (29 August-4 October 1986) [35]. This was the first time ever that an Energiya-Buran combination had spent time on the pad.

Next up was the 4MP/11F36P stack with the OK-MT vehicle for various loading tests of the orbiter both in the MZK and on launch pad 37. The combination was

rolled out to the pad on 5 May 1987 and shown to General Secretary Gorbachov during his visit to the cosmodrome in mid-May. 4MP returned to the MZK on 14 May, one day prior to the launch of Energiya 6SL, to make sure that it wouldn’t be damaged in case the Energiya blew up during lift-off. Afterwards, it spent one more month on the pad (28 May-29 June 1987) to complete the tests. Similar tests with the 4MP stack were conducted on pad 37 in October-November 1987. After that, the flight hardware for the first Energiya-Buran mission was ready to make its appearance on the pad.

BURAN’S SWAN SONG

Later that year, RKA, the Ministry of Defense, the Academy of Sciences, and several other organizations drew up a “State Space Program up to the Year 2000’’, which did not include any plans for continued use of Buran [16]. This was a clear sign that, as far as RKA was concerned, Buran had no place in the new political and economical environment following the collapse of the USSR. In fact, some sources say the agency decided that same year to cancel further work on Buran [17]. The only more or less optimistic statements on the future of Buran in 1992 came from NPO Energiya officials themselves. Early in the year Vladimir Nikitskiy, Energiya’s director of international affairs, said funding for Buran was being maintained on a low level and that the program had not yet been canceled outright, although it would be expensive to keep the already built orbiters in flyable storage [18]. In the summer Semyonov said nearly 4 billion rubles would be directed to continuation of the program. He noted, however, that the launch complex needed to be restored because no routine inspection and maintenance work had been done on it for nearly a year and a half. Semyonov held out hope that the 2K1 mission would fly in 1993 [19].

It appears Semyonov’s words were no more than wishful thinking. As the months progressed, it was becoming ever clearer that the program was in its death throes. In May 1993 the Council of Chief Designers issued the following statement, which confirmed what had been obvious all along:

“The two successful launches of the Energiya rocket… have confirmed the correctness of the design decisions and the reliability of all elements of this new rocket and space system, unmatched in its capabilities by anything in the world. Taking into consideration that the government is not in a position not only to ensure the continuation of work, but also to take measures to maintain the cooperation between the designers and the acquired scientific and technical potential, the Council of Chief Designers is forced to conclude with deep regret that further work on the orbital vehicle Buran and the Energiya rocket carrier, [once] destined to provide our country a leading position in the exploration of space, is not considered possible’’ [20].

This statement is the closest that the Russians ever came to officially announcing the end of Energiya-Buran. There was no single day when the program was canceled.

Since the project had been sanctioned by a government and Communist Party decree in 1976, the only way to officially terminate it was by another government decree or by a presidential edict (“ukase”). This also meant that no funds were allocated to mothball, demolish, or reuse surviving hardware, something which companies had to pay for out of their own pockets. It wasn’t until 2005, after numerous pleas from the Russian Space Agency, that the Russian government began to settle outstanding debts with companies involved in the Energiya-Buran program and also to provide funds to destroy or reuse surviving hardware [21].

There are few hard figures on the exact cost of the Energiya-Buran program, but there can be little doubt that it gobbled up a significant portion of the annual Soviet space budget, especially during the 1980s. This was even to the detriment of ongoing piloted space programs. According to the official NPO Energiya history so many funds had been diverted to Buran that by early 1984 work on the Mir space station had come to a virtual standstill [22].

In 1989 Soviet space officials for the first time released details of the budget. The 1989 space budget amounted to 6.9 billion rubles (about $10 billion according to the official exchange rates at the time), of which 3.9 billion went to military space programs, 1.7 billion to “economic and scientific programs’’ and 1.3 billion to Energiya-Buran [23]. Speaking at a Cosmonautics Day meeting on 12 April 1993, Koptev said that wielding the axe on the program had freed up 40-45 percent of the resources spent on the entire civilian space program [24]. As for the overall cost of the program, at the end of 1989 Glavkosmos chief Dunayev said that 14 billion rubles had been spent during thirteen years of development and testing [25]. Boris Gubanov says that by 1 January 1991 the program had cost a total of 16.4 billion rubles, of which 12.3 billion had gone to design and testing and 4.1 billion to “capital con­struction’’ [26].

Soviet officials regularly made optimistic statements along the lines that the numerous technological spin-offs from the Energiya-Buran program would even­tually pay back its cost. Dunayev said in late 1989 that 581 proposals had been made to other industrial sectors to introduce those spin-offs, adding that the expected savings from proposals already adopted amounted to hundreds of millions of rubles and that the total 14 billion rubles invested in research and development would be returned by the year 2000 [27]. Korolyov bureau veteran Boris Chertok even claimed that the spin-offs would more than pay for the expenditures on creating the system, even if it was never launched into space again [28].

Mir-2 modules

In response to the announcement of America’s Freedom space station in 1984, the Soviet Union devised plans for a massive version of the Mir-2 space station using giant modules launched by the Energiya rocket. There were two competing proposals for such modules, one put forward by the NPO Energiya central design bureau and another by its KB Salyut branch. In the NPO Energiya design, the modules weighed roughly 75 tons and were delivered to the station by a space tug known as GTA-S (Cargo Transport Supply Ship), which would be detached from the module after docking. Orbit insertion of the module/GTA-S combination after separation from the Energiya rocket would have been achieved with a Blok-DM derived upper stage. This particular configuration of Energiya was known as 14A10.

Little is known about the KB Salyut proposal, only that it was based on the Skif design and would have used an FGB section, presumably both for orbit insertion and subsequent maneuvering to the space station.

There were ambitious plans to gradually assemble a station consisting of at least eight such giant modules, but in 1991 budget realities forced these plans to be shelved in favor of a downsized Mir-2 with a 20-ton core module and smaller add-on modules. In 1993 this version of Mir-2 was united with Freedom to become the International Space Station [60].

Landing facilities

The Yubileynyy runway was rarely used in the early 1990s and gradually deteriorated as a result. One idea put forward in 1994 was to use it as a refueling base for cargo planes on intercontinental flights [87]. What really saved Yubileynyy in the end was the establishment of international launch vehicle organizations like Inter­national Launch Services, Starsem, and Land Launch, which need a well-equipped airfield to deliver their customers’ satellites to the cosmodrome. The advantages that Yubileynyy has over the older Krayniy airfield near the town of Baykonur are that it can receive heavy cargo airplanes and is situated much closer to the launch facilities.

Conforming to International Civil Aviation Organization standards for Class 1 airports, Yubileynyy handles aircraft of all classes for both freight and charter flights, including Boeing 747s and Antonov 124s. The airfield can operate year-round at any time of day. It has cranes, forklifts, and other equipment needed for offloading satellites. The payloads are transferred to railcars that are located approximately 50 to 80 m from the aircraft. The airport is connected by rail and road to all major cosmodrome facilities [88].

Playing a crucial role in commercial launch operations, Yubileynyy is continu­ously being maintained in a good state. It is also the place where most visiting delegations now arrive at the launch site.

Key Energiya-Buran specifications

A. l ENERGIYA ROCKET

Overall specifications

Total launch mass Without payload With Buran

Rocket mass prior to orbiter separation Core stage Wet mass

Liquid oxygen mass Liquid hydrogen mass Strap-on booster Wet mass

Liquid oxygen mass Kerosene mass Dimensions

Core stage length Core stage tank diameter Strap-on booster length Strap-on booster tank diameter Total lift-off thrust

Engine specifications Parameter

Propellants

Oxidizer/fuel mixture ratio Combustion cycle Sea-level thrust Vacuum thrust Sea-level specific impulse Vacuum specific impulse Chamber pressure Turbopump power Turbopump rotation Throttle range Nozzle area ratio Gimbal capability Nominal burn time Dry mass Length Diameter

Energiya data collected from: Y. Baturin (ed.), Mirovaya pilotiruemaya kosmonav – tika, Moscow: RTSoft, 2005, p. 443; Fact sheet of Voronezh Machine Building Factory; “The RD-170 and RD-171” (in Russian), on-line at http://www. lpre. de/ energomash/RD-170/index. htm

A.2 BURAN

Maximum launch mass

105 t

Mass on first mission

79.41

Landing mass

Nominal

821

Maximum

871

Dry mass

621

Maximum payload to orbit

For 200 km, 50.7° orbit

301

For 200 km, 97° orbit

16t

Mass of returned payload

Nominal

15t

Maximum

20 t

Dimensions

Length

36.37 m

Height (on runway)

16.35m

Maximum width of fuselage

5.60m

Wingspan

23.92m

Wing area

250 m2

Tail area

39 m2

Body flap area

10.3m2

Payload bay length

18.55m

Payload bay diameter

4.70 m

Crew

Minimum (with ejection seats)

2

Maximum (without ejection seats)

10

Volume of crew compartment

73 m3

Flight duration

Nominal

7 days

Maximum (with extra tanks)

30 days

Range of orbital inclinations

50.7-110°

Orbital altitude

Nominal (circular)

250-500 km

Maximum (with extra tanks)

1,000 km

Maximum g-forces

Launch (nominal trajectory)

2.95g

Re-entry (nominal trajectory)

1.6g

Lift-to-drag ratio

At hypersonic speeds

1.3

At subsonic speeds

5.6

Crossrange capability

Maximum

1,700 km

Demonstrated during 1st flight

550 km

Landing speed

Average (for 82 ton landing mass)

312 km/h

Maximum

360 km/h

On first flight

263 km/h

Landing rollout distance

Minimum/maximum

1,100-2,000 m

On first flight

1,620 m

Maximum number of flights

100

Buran data taken from: Y. Baturin, op. cit., p. 438.

THE OFFICIAL GO-AHEAD

The decree (nr. 123-51) was finally issued by the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party and the Council of Ministers of the USSR on 17 February 1976 and called “On the Development of a Reusable Space System and Future Space Complexes’’. In the typical style of those days, the official go-ahead for the Soviet shuttle was literally worded as follows:

“The Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party and the Council of Ministers, attaching special importance to increasing the defense capabilities of the country and strengthening the work to create future space complexes for solving military, economic, and scientific tasks, has decided: (1) to accept the proposals of the Ministry of General Machine Building, the Ministry of Defense of the USSR, and the Academy of Sciences of the USSR to create a Reusable Space System consisting of a rocket boost stage, an orbital plane, an interorbital tug, a complex to control the system, launch, landing and repair complexes, and other ground-based means to launch into northeasterly orbits with an altitude of 200 kilometers payloads weighing up to 30 tons and return to the launch and landing complex payloads weighing up to 20 tons and with the purpose of:

– counteracting the measures taken by the likely adversary to expand the use of space for military purposes;

– solving purposeful tasks in the interests of defense, the national economy, and science;

– carrying out military and applications research and experiments in space to support the development of space battle systems using weapons based on known and new physical principles;

0CCS01 па жни «к

 

,H 4їСМ ЇГГЧІ7 1*сигл Мч – Ч – Г Г» “ ■* I

 

THE OFFICIAL GO-AHEAD
THE OFFICIAL GO-AHEAD

-: Іі ПС.^ШІ Ul£CD5l0:.-3^ <=■£*-*лс:-кЬ надам *Ґ. І Ь -0-

 

THE OFFICIAL GO-AHEAD

рдь^-іи цц^іиі Г! пнгпроіиі ПШНПфНїїЬ – Й£іC^-Z-U^ ПГмЛ

 

гігр-~пігг:і т-:т_-Га. і!ьі, k ILl/Ы ■

 

The historic February 1976 government and party decree on Buran (source: OmV Luch/Russian Space Agency).

 

image42

THE OFFICIAL GO-AHEAD

– putting into near-Earth orbits, servicing in these orbits, and returning to Earth space vehicles for different purposes, delivering to space stations cosmonauts and cargo and returning them back to Earth..[25].

Underscoring the military motives for developing the Soviet shuttle, the decree placed the Ministry of Defense in charge of determining the system’s specifications. MOM was assigned as the lead ministry to develop the shuttle and associated space weaponry. MAP was tasked with developing the orbiter’s airframe as well as building the runway and its associated equipment and the carrier aircraft to ferry the orbiter to the launch site.

Not surprisingly, Glushko’s NPO Energiya became the lead organization for the shuttle under MOM, performing a role similar to that of a “prime contractor’’ in the West. Igor Sadovskiy remained the system’s chief designer. The choice of an organ­ization within MAP was less obvious. Probably, the most logical choice would have been MMZ Zenit’s space branch in Dubna (now part of DPKO Raduga), which had been working on the Spiral project for a decade. However, MAP minister Pyotr Dementyev decided to set up a new organization called NPO Molniya, which was an amalgam of three existing design bureaus: MKB Molniya, MKB Burevestnik, and Myasishchev’s Experimental Machine Building Factory (EMZ). Only EMZ had earlier experience with spaceplane projects, having proposed a futuristic single – stage-to-orbit spaceplane called M-19 in response to the Space Shuttle (see Chapter 9). Given the limited background of the three organizations in space-related work, some leading specialists of MMZ Zenit and the Dubna space branch were transferred to NPO Molniya to occupy the leading positions. These included Spiral chief designer Gleb Lozino-Lozinskiy, who was placed in charge of the new organization, and his deputy Gennadiy Dementyev, the son of the MAP minister. NPO Molniya was officially created on the basis of MAP orders dated 24 February and 15 March 1976 (see Chapter 4) [26].

The decree was not just restricted to the Soviet shuttle, it also sanctioned the development of multimodular space stations (what would eventually become Mir), a new type of Soyuz ship to transport cosmonauts to those stations (what later became Soyuz-T) as well as a system of geostationary data relay satellites called GKKRS (Global Space Command-Relay System) (what would eventually become Geyzer and Luch/Altair). Surprisingly, it also ordered NPO Energiya to work out a preliminary design in 1976-1978 for a “Lunar Expeditionary Complex’’ in 1976-1978, essentially a continuation of the Zvezda work begun in the middle of 1974. However, the project does not seem to have received much support and was closed down by a commission headed by Keldysh in 1978 [27]. In a final attempt to keep his lunar aspirations alive, Glushko tabled a proposal for a more modest manned lunar project using the Energiya rocket, but this never saw the light of day either [28].

However, if any Soviet cosmonauts were going to the Moon anytime soon, it was certainly not going to be on the N-1. With work on the ill-fated Moon rocket already suspended in 1974, the decree now officially terminated all work on the N-1/L-3 project, although it did call for using the N-1’s cosmodrome infrastructure to the maximum extent possible.

Official approval of the Soviet shuttle came more than four years after President Nixon’s Space Shuttle decision. In some ways this slow response was reminiscent of the Soviets’ 1964 decision to go to the Moon, which was made more than three years after President Kennedy’s announcement of the Apollo program. The official history of NPO Energiya gives both political and strategic motives for the decision:

on the one hand [the Reusable Space System] was to consolidate the leading position of the USSR in the exploration of space and on the other hand [it] was to exclude the possible technical and military [advantage], connected with the appearance among the potential enemy of the… Space Shuttle, a principally new technical means of delivering to near-Earth orbit and returning to Earth payloads of significant masses’’ [29].

While national prestige certainly played a role in the Buran decision, it was not as dominant as it had been in the Moon race. For one, there was no intention to upstage the US Space Shuttle. The maiden flight of the Soviet shuttle was planned for no earlier than 1983, which was four years later than the expected launch date of the first Space Shuttle. Clearly, the driving force behind Buran was the urge to maintain strategic parity with the United States. As far as the Russians were concerned, Buran was just another part of the Cold War. Another government/party decree in 1976 ordered NPO Energiya to begin studies of space-based weapons “for combat opera­tions in and from space’’, in which the new heavy-lift launch vehicles and the shuttle would play a crucial role (see Chapter 6).

This is not to say there was unanimous support for the project among the military. The payloads for the shuttle and the super-heavy boosters derived from it were not clearly defined. With the benefit of hindsight, the official history of the Military Space Forces says:

“There was no well-founded need for the USSR Ministry of Defense [to develop] such a system. Buran’s main characteristics were close to those of the Space Shuttle and it had [the same] shortcomings, and moreover it was even less economical” [30].

Despite all the similarities, there was also a basic difference with the American Shuttle philosophy. The Space Shuttle was advocated as a system that would replace all existing expendable launch vehicles and launch all types of payloads (both govern­ment and commercial), a decision for which NASA had to pay dearly after the Challenger disaster in 1986. The Soviet shuttle was never intended to be a substitute for expendable launch vehicles, but a system that would be used exclusively for tasks that could not be handled by conventional rockets, such as the launch of heavy payloads and the maintenance and retrieval of satellites in orbit.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

The system

The term used for the Soviet shuttle program in the February 1976 party/government decree was Reusable Space System (Mnogorazovaya Kosmicheskaya Sistema or MKS). This covered not only the rocket and orbiter, but extended to the interorbital space tug mentioned in the decree as well as the cosmodrome infrastructure needed to prepare, launch, and land the vehicle. MKS is probably the closest equivalent to “(National) Space Transportation System” ((N)STS) in the United States (officially changed into “Space Shuttle Program” in 1990).

On 27 May 1976 chief designer Igor Sadovskiy approved an MKS structure consisting of 13 elements, each of which got its own Ministry of Defense designator beginning with the number 11. Others were added later in the program. The flight hardware was given the following designators:

– the orbiter: 11F35;

– the core stage: 11K25Ts;

– the strap-on boosters: 11K25A;

– the interorbital space tug: 11F45.

The MKS itself received the designator 1K11K25. Combinations of individual elements got their own designators. The most important ones were [73]:

– core stage + strap-on boosters: 11K25;

– core stage + strap-on boosters + orbiter: 11F36.

Another term used later in the program was Universal Rocket and Space Trans­portation System (Universalnaya Raketno-Kosmicheskaya Transportnaya Sistema or URKTS), which seems to have referred more specifically to the rocket family, reflecting the fact that Energiya could also fly with two or eight strap-on boosters and carry other payloads than the orbiter. The word “reusable” was reportedly not included because the reusability of the strap-on boosters had not yet been demon­strated, nor would it ever be [74].

The combination of orbiter and rocket was also known as the Reusable Rocket Space Complex (Mnogorazovyy Raketno-Kosmicheskiy Kompleks or MRKK). A general word for the spaceplane, comparable with Orbiter in the US, was “Orbital Ship” (Orbitalnyy Korabl or OK). The core stage was called “Central Block” (Blok-Ts in Russian spelling) and the strap-on boosters “Block-A” (Blok-A). “Block” is a commonly used word in Russian to designate rocket stages. It also appears in the names of famous upper stages such as the Blok-D and Blok-L.

Of course, the orbiter and rocket became known to the world in the late 1980s by the less prosaic names Buran and Energiya. While the name Energiya was specifically invented for public consumption late in the program, the name Buran was used in internal documentation from the very beginning, long before the program entered the public domain.

The word buran, imported into Russian from the Turkish language family, refers to a violent, cold northeast wind in the Central Asian steppes that lifts snow from the ground, usually during the winter. The same wind also occurs, but less frequently, in summer, when it darkens the skies by raising dust clouds and is then called karaburan (“black buran”). Although usually translated simply as “snowstorm”, buran is not the general Russian word for a snowstorm, but a much more specific term that could better be defined as “a blizzard in the steppes”.

The name Buran had already been applied to a canceled cruise missile designed by the OKB-23 Myasishchev bureau in the 1950s (see Chapter 1). Of course, Myasishchev later became closely involved in the shuttle program as head of the Experimental Machine Building Factory (EMZ) and one might speculate that the suggestion to recycle the name came from him.

The first use of the name Buran in connection with the Soviet shuttle seems to have come in NPO Energiya’s proposals for the OS-120 design in 1975. Since this was the Space Shuttle type integrated configuration with an external tank and the main engines on the orbiter, it referred to the whole stack, not the orbiter individually. Even after the final decision had been made to turn the external tank into the second stage, the name Buran continued to be used for the combination of the now engineless orbiter and its launch vehicle (and therefore denoted the same as “11F36” and “MRKK”). For some reason, NPO Energiya’s internal RLA-130 designator for the rocket did not become established. The configuration in which the orbiter was replaced by an unmanned cargo canister was known as Buran-T. The common name for orbiter and rocket caused quite some confusion in the space community and was sometimes conveniently misused by opponents to criticize the system as a whole while reacting to problems with one of the two elements [75].

The name Energiya was not coined until May 1987, when the Russians needed to make a public announcement about the rocket’s first launch. In contrast to earlier plans this was not flown with a shuttle, but with a quickly improvised payload called Polyus. When Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachov visited the Baykonur cosmodrome in the final days prior to the launch, Glushko proposed the name Energiya, mainly because this was one of the buzzwords of Gorbachov’s policy of perestroyka. The fact that it was also the name of Glushko’s design bureau was probably less convincing to Gorbachov [76]. By giving the rocket an individual name, the Russians also under­lined that this was a launch vehicle in its own right, capable of launching not only shuttles, but other heavy payloads as well [77]. Of course, not enough time was left to paint the new name on the rocket as there was for the second launch.

Lower deck (“Aggregate Compartment’’ or AO)

The lower deck contained life support systems such as air ducts, condensate col­lectors, oxygen tanks, regenerators, the toilet’s waste collection system, and a fire extinguisher bottle. Also installed here were elements of the vehicle’s thermal control and power supply systems. The lower deck could be reached by crew members via panels in the floor of the mid-deck.

It should be noted that the fully outfitted crew module as described above was never flown. Since the one and only mission performed by a Buran orbiter was unmanned, the cabin was stripped of much of the equipment essential to support a crew [16].

AltitudejVelocity Parameter System (SVSP)

The SVSP consisted of air data probes extended from Buran at an altitude of 20 km to measure barometric altitude, true and indicated airspeed, Mach speed, angle of attack, and dynamic pressure, and display that data for the commander and pilot in the cockpit. The SVSP was only supposed to correct the vertical channel of the inertial navigation system in emergency situations where other navigation aids failed, helping the crew to guide Buran to a manual touchdown. The SVSP was the equivalent of the Shuttle’s Air Data System.

High-Altitude Radio Altimeter (RVB) and Low-Altitude Radio Altimeter (RVM)

The RVB was designed for accurate measurements of geometrical altitude using the principle of impulse modulation of an emitted signal. Its information was only supposed to be used for actual flight trajectory changes when the orbiter flew over flat terrain (because the local relief was not necessarily at the same level as the runway) or in emergency situations, where it could have been used to provide elevation data in conjunction with the air data probes.

The RVM accurately measured the altitude above the runway from flare-out at an altitude of 20 m to touchdown as well as absolute flight altitude under 1 km. The RVB has no equivalent on the Shuttle, whereas the RVM performs the same role as the Shuttle’s Radar Altimeters.

The on-board and ground-based components of the RDS, RSBN, and RMS were known together as the Vympel (“Pennant’’) system and were developed by VNIIRA under the leadership of Gennadiy N. Gromov. Vympel also included three ground – based radar complexes that monitored the vehicle’s adherence to the calculated flight path during approach and landing. Each of the complexes contained two radars. The first complex (TRLK-10K or Skala-MK) acquired the vehicle at a distance of about 400 km, using both primary (skin-echo) and secondary (transponder) signals, with the transponder reply transmitting such data as altitude, speed, and heading. At a distance of about 200 km an intermediate-range radar complex (E-511 or Ilmen) took over flight path monitoring. Precision approach radars (E-516V or Volkhov- P) monitored the final approach and landing [24].