Saturday, 6 May 2017

Buran, the Soviet's Space Shuttle

Passing through Sydney, Australia, in 2001, the last thing I expected to see on the list of potential tourist attractions was a space shuttle - let alone a Russian one. The Buran spaceplane program started in the 1970's in response to the American space shuttle program, and produced several shuttles. Only one of the Burans ever flew in space (unmanned) before the collapse of the USSR and the abandonment of the project. One atmospheric test article, model OK-2M, was sold and ended up in Sydney to be displayed during the 2000 Olympics, and she was still on display when I visited in early 2001.

Buran test article OK-2M on display in Sydney, Australia, in 2001.
Unlike NASA's Enterprise, which was used for basically the same purpose, OK-2M was fitted with four AL-31 jet engines for her role as a flight test prototype, with a large fuel tank installed in the cargo bay. These engines are also used in the SU-27 family of jet fighters. Enterprise had to be lifted into the air on the back of a modified Boeing 747, and released at altitude to test her gliding capabilities. The space-capable Buran's did not have jet engines.

Two AL-31 jet engines mounted on the starboard side.
Access covers removed on one of the port AL-31 jet engines. 
The two upper AL-31 nacelles were mounted directly to the fuselage on either side of the vertical stabilizer, and appear to have had covers. The lower two engine nacelles were mounted on short struts.
A view of the orientation of the four AL-31 jet engines. One set of cargo bay doors was open, and I suspect the object in the cargo bay is the fuel tank for the jet engines.
Unlike the US Space Shuttle, the Buran orbiter lacked main rocket engines, and only had smaller engines for maneuvering in, and breaking from, orbit.

The Buran's maneuvering engines in the tail, with one of the jet engines outboard and above.

Another view of the Buran's engines.
A view down the starboard cargo bay door and wing.
While on display in Sydney, OK-2M was protected from the elements under a rigid frame tent structure, and was fitted with aluminum walkways to allow visitors to climb up and over the spaceplane and down into the cargo hold. Unfortunately, one could not actually enter the crew compartment or flight deck.

An access walkway runs along the port side of the cargo bay and down over the port wing. The port cargo door was removed, and can be seen hanging from the tent's rigid frame in the top right of the photo. 
Looking down over the nose.

OK-2M had black heat shield tiles around the flight deck windows, unlike OK-1K1 (the only airframe to fly in space). There were windows wrapping around the front, as well as looking out the top of the flight deck.

The starboard window over the flight deck.

Looking into the flight deck at the flight controls on the centre console. The Buran apparently didn't come with cupholders.

There were also two windows looking into the cargo bay.

Another view into the flight deck, this time through a window from the cargo bay.
The walkway dropped right down into the cargo bay.

Looking forward in the cargo bay. Instead of a pressure door, there is a grate over the opening into the crew compartment at the forward end of the cargo bay.

A closer look at the grate blocking access into the crew compartment. As a test platform, I'm guessing OK-2M's crew compartment was probably never finished inside, but I couldn't get close enough to the door to find out.

Details of construction in the cargo bay.

The cargo bay was home to a large fuel tank for the four jet engines. 

This is the aft end of the cargo bay, behind the fuel tank. I'm guessing the yellow piping is the plumbing between the jet engines and the fuel tank.

You could also walk underneath the shutte and view the landing gear up close.
After I visited OK-2M in Sydney, the company putting her on display went bankrupt, and she was stored out in the open for a year before moving to Bahrain. She was found there in 2004, and eventually made her way to Germany where she is now on display at the Technik Museum Speyer, near Heidelberg in Germany. She hasn't flown since 1988, and all her subsequent moves appear to have been either via sea or land.

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