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 . 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 . 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 . 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 .
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’’ .
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 .
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 .
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 . 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 . 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 . 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’’ .
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 . 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 .