Did The Soviets Build A Better Space Shuttle? The Buran Story


The space shuttle wasn’t like anything
before it, it was the first reusable spacecraft and it promised to make
travel into space affordable, safe, almost routine. And so by the 1970’s America
abandoned expendable rockets, which could only be used once, and went all in on
space shuttles, Building the Columbia, the Challenger, the discovery, the Atlantis
the Braun and the Endeavour. Wait a minute, this is not one of the space
shuttles. In 1988, the world learned that the
Soviet Union also had a space shuttle. They had been secretly developing it for
well over a decade, and it had cost them billions. But maybe you’ve never heard of
it, and that wouldn’t be too surprising, because the Soviet Space Shuttle only
ever launched once. But it’s not because it was flawed. Actually its first launch
was a huge success and in a lot of ways it was actually more capable and robust
than the American space shuttle. But after its first launch, the Soviet
shuttle seems to have just disappeared. And to understand why, you need to go
back to the late 1960’s. That’s when the Soviets would have learned that the
Americans were planning to replace their conventional rockets with a new reusable
spacecraft. But at first the Soviets wouldn’t have been concerned. After all,
they had done their own research into reusable spacecraft and space planes. And the Soviets were pretty busy with other space projects. They were still in the
race to put a man on the moon, they had ambitious plans for a space station, even
a potential moon base. But by 1975 the mood had changed, the Soviets had grown paranoid that the American space shuttle might also be used as a space weapon.
Soviet research institutes studied the shuttle program and what they found was
that the publicly stated goals of the program, well, just didn’t line up with what the Americans were actually building. For one, the shuttle promised to make getting into space cheaper. But the Soviets could
clearly see that the shuttle’s launch costs were actually going to be higher
than the Rockets it was supposed to replace. And the shuttle program promised an incredible 60 launches a year, giving the Americans the ability to get a lot
of material into orbit – ten times more than they had been previously able to.
And yet there was nothing in NASA’s plans that called for so many launches.
The space shuttle’ss commercial and scientific goals were starting to look
like a smokescreen for what was likely a military program. The Soviets suspected
that the shuttle could be used to launch something like, say, a laser weapon into
orbit, test it, then bring it back down to earth for further development.
With a shuttle type craft, the Americans could militarize space a lot quicker
than the Soviets. The shuttle could even be used to capture a Soviet spy
satellite and bring it back down to earth for study. And to compound Soviet
fears, they discovered that the Americans were quietly building a second launch
site for the shuttle at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. And here’s the
thing with Vandenberg, launch the shuttle from there and by its first orbit it’s
over all the major population centers of the Soviet Union. So the shuttle could in
theory deliver a nuclear first-strike faster than any Soviet nuclear delivery
system. The Soviet military pushed hard for the Soviet Union
to start developing its own space shuttle, but few involved in the Soviet
space program actually wanted a shuttle type craft. But four years after the
Americans began working on the space shuttle, the Kremlin quietly gave the go-ahead to start developing a Soviet counterpart
The Soviet Union’s space shuttle would be called Buran and its research and
development would be kept a closely guarded secret for years. When the
Americans first launched the Space Shuttle on April 12 1981, which awkwardly enough was the 20th anniversary of the Soviets launching the first man into
space, the Soviet media was scathing. They blasted the Americans for putting in
military craft into space and they reminded viewers that the Soviet Union’s
space program was for the betterment of science and humanity. Very few Soviet citizens would have known that their own government was
secretly developing a similar shuttle. There’s no way around it the Buran
looked a lot like the American Space Shuttle, and it’s got nothing to do with
aerodynamic or thermodynamic laws. The goal had been to build something that
could match the military potential of the Space Shuttle and with a lot of
information about the American Space Shuttle freely available and
unclassified, it’s not hard to imagine what happened next. But here’s the thing,
the Soviets already knew a thing or two about getting into space, so they didn’t
just copy the shuttle, they might have designed a better Space Shuttle
First there’s a big difference in how the Space Shuttle and the Buran actually
get into space. The Space Shuttle’s orbiter uses integrated reusable main
engines which are fueled by an external tank. But because the main engines were
not powerful enough to put the Shuttle into orbit, it also needed the help of
two expendable solid rocket boosters. But the Buran didn’t have integrated engines,
all of its lifting power was provided by a separate super-heavy rocket called
Energia. It consisted of a core stage and four
boosters. Unlike the Space Shuttle, which was a single system, the Buran orbiter
and it’s lifting Rockets were actually two separate systems. While the Shuttle
with its integrated engines was more reusable, in practice it required
intensive maintenance between launches, which offset a lot of its advantage, but
once in space the Shuttle’s integrated engines no
longer serve the purpose. So for most of the Shuttle’s mission, it was forced to
haul around thousands of pounds of dead weight. This meant that the Buran
could carry slightly more payload than the Space Shuttle, but more importantly
the Soviet system had a massive advantage: flexibility. The Energia
rocket could launch by itself without the Buran attached, and that meant it
could carry other things into space. Without the Buran, the Energia rocket could launch an astounding 100 tons. That’s three Space Shuttles worth of
lifting power. The Space Shuttle’s first stage uses solid rocket boosters. The
Energia’s are liquid fueled. The thing with solid rocket boosters is, once they’re
started, there’s simply no way to shut them off. The Energia’s liquid-fueled
rockets could be throttled up down or even shut off completely in an emergency. And in an emergency, the Buran had ejection seats for the entire crew, which
could function while on the launch pad or all the way up to 20 miles.
Only the first two shuttles had ejection seats and only for two crew members.
Later shuttles had no ejection seats at all. From the outset the Buran was also
capable of fully automated flight, meaning it could be launched, put into
orbit, and returned back to earth without any crew on board. Automated flight couldhave been used for rescue missions and an empty Buran could be sent up to
rescue the crew of a space station or another stranded orbiter. The Buran’s
first launch was on November of 1988. The western media was impressed. Especially by it’s fully automatic landing system. On that autumn day in 1988 the future of Soviet space flight – at least from an outsider’s perspective – looked promising. The media speculated that the Buran would be used to build space stations, or
maybe to assemble a spacecraft for a manned mission to Mars. Of course none of that ever happened the Buran was only launched once. In the late 1980’s the
Soviet Union began to collapse, and with it funding for the Buran was limited, and
eventually cut off entirely. Tough questions started rolling in about the
program. Soviet engineers had done a fine job, but the entire program was starting
to look absurdly expensive. Like the American Space Shuttle, the Buran was
costly and inefficient, but unlike the Americans the Russians still had other
ways to get into space. A soyuz rocket could launch payload into orbit six
times cheaper than a Braun. But if the Soviet Union hadn’t collapsed, well, we
might imagine Burans being used to assemble orbital space stations, or
spacecraft for missions to other planets. Or maybe not. The Soviets had been so
paranoid about the military potential of the American Shuttle they wanted their
own matching system. But that goal quickly became pretty much the only goal. In the final days of the Soviet Union, when it was clear that the American
shuttle had no meaningful military potential, the Soviet military no longer
wanted anything to do with the Buran, and the Soviet space community was left with
a spacecraft that was expensive, complex, and largely without a real purpose

100 thoughts on “Did The Soviets Build A Better Space Shuttle? The Buran Story

  1. Thanks for watching! Just wanted to note a correction at 5:32 in the video. I refer to the Space Shuttle's Solid Rocket Boosters as 'expendable' when I should have said 'reusable'.

  2. Did you mention that the only way an American can get into space now , is to rent a flight on a Russian rocket ???

  3. Answer NO, anyone with half a brain can figure this out. All you need to do is look at successes and number of flights of USA shuttle versus a one flight test of soviet Buran and so called success (Not really a success). A lot specified features without track record is just hype, maybe they didn’t need it anyhow when they found out the USA wasn’t using it as a weapon like originally thought.

  4. A bit of more history. The CCCP is quite right. Just check the reasons for each launch. The California launch site was close to the " Blue Cube " where it would be close to where the spy satellites wee built. Many people in the know called it a " space delivery truck. The landing was trying to land a brick and take the family car and light 2 pieces of dynamite strapped on it. " The last comment is cleaned up a bit for vulgar language. I lived in Silicon Valley and you hear a lot of stuff from the real people and the real truth about things the government lies about to this day. Nope, you can never get arrested for thinking ( yet ).

  5. BTW, disaster ( a Bad Star) was " was WHEN,not if ). Everything was preventable on the Challenger incident. Even the crew cabin was intact and all the crew died when they impacted the ocean surface. The shuttles were designed on our Cray Research supercomputers and I worried about a fatal design flaw. I was outraged about the MT SRBs and the O-ring issue and the political reasons for the launch. I was upset at the second incident. ypu must trust your instruments and use orbital mechanics to bounce off the atmosphere to go into LEO. I was screaming at the TV to NOT reenter. One of the bitter ironies is that the US buys the Energia rocket engines for their brute force handling of power.

  6. The saddest thing about the Buran is they built several of them but just left them to rot in some warehouse somewhere.

    I get not having a reason to launch them, but after a while, and given all the political upheaval, you would've thought they'd move them to a museum or something.
    But nope. Just left there, slowly decaying…

  7. It's likely just as bad as the Tu-144 (Concorde copycat) and Tu-160 (B-1B copycat). Copy cats are always inferior.

  8. Buran was an absolutely high-tech and very complicated spaceship. It means that it too may had a fatal problems. But
    despite the fact that he was looks like space shuttle outside, there was implemented other decisions (for example thermal defense) it could be more successful.
    But the drama of modern russian space engineering that, after the soviet union was fall and industry became in crisis, we was loose technical ability to restore "Energia" program. Now it easier to develop a new heavy booster than restore "Energia".

  9. Yes they did and No they didn't. They had different capabilities. I think the better way of looking at this is use our orbiter and their launch system energea.

  10. 5 X1 para EUA, sem falar no pioneirismo. Alguém tem dúvida de quem tem melhor tecnologia? USAUSAUSA the big one. Bye bye.

  11. So 1986 little bit of ice in FLORIDA wrecked a whole shuttle but Russia can launch shit from Mongolia. 😜 things that make you go hmmmmmm

  12. oh, americans really know smth about what's happenning outside of texas or dont want to know…)) btw, don't the author want to tell the american society that Atlantis has been using our (russian) engines for long years?
    this is a link telling about transport for Buran – the biggest airplane ever made by humans AN-225 Mriya (means as 'Dream').
    https://youtu.be/Az_ghEvB7Yc

  13. Arabs first knows the world was round before the west, Arabs also knew about the ice caps before the west, Arabs also build the world's first rockets, we invented all best hospital tools and save humanity.. western bitches

  14. If you want to see the Soviet Shuttle? Its in Germany i live in Germany and its in the city called Speyer there is a museum with a few fighters
    Old timers
    Etc.
    And the Buran is there. If you know that allready or even visited it leave a like if you WANT because i dont demand u to like just if u want

  15. The Buran had no life support system so couldn't carry a crew, so had to land automatically nor could it rescue anyone from Orbit! I
    If the Energia was so useful why wasn't it used to build the ISS instead of using the more expensive space shuttle! for Russian paylpads to the ISS Perhaps the Enwrgisa system wasn't so good!

  16. So they abandoned it when they realised their competitors don't have space weapons.
    Slow claps…
    Rip science and scientists efforts

  17. All you American dickheads have no clue what you're talking about. Why do you all hate communism? Theoretically its litteraly a perfect world. Everyone works for everyone, everyone is equal. Housing, schooling, medicine, co-carricular activities were all provided free of charge. The average pay in the 80s was 120 rubles a month. THATS HOW CLOSE WE CAME TO A PERFECT WORLD. ignorant basterds.
    I know it has nothing to do with the video but these comments are a bit whack.
    #restablishtheSovietUnion

  18. ALSO,

    The Buran had Jet engines which meant it would fly down to Earth. It was a Jet plane.

    The Space Shuttle had no usable engines on it's return flight. It was a glider.

  19. The rocket «Energia» is a more interesting solution than the Buran space plane. For example the liquid fuel side boosters can be made reusable. They are used as standalone devices today in the form of the Ukranian rocket «Zenit» and as a first stage of the rocket «Antares». The planned rocket «Soyuz-5» may also borrow some design principles from those side boosters.
    Hopefully the company «S7 Space» (a part of the «S7 AirSpace Corporation») will design and build something more valuable and modern. They bought the «Sea Launch» BTW.

  20. 当時は、よくぞココまで恥ずかしげもなく、スペースシャトルのコピー機体を公開したものだ。
    自国独自の技術など一つもはいっていない。

    科学者の育成予算を大幅に削減し今やまともに新技術のテストもできず。

  21. Thanks to the bastards Americans and the traitor Gorbachev for destroying the great USSR, I am sure the USSR would have already flown to Mars.

  22. 7:07 "Only the first two Shuttles had ejection seats…"
    In fact, Columbia was the only Orbiter fitted with ejection seats and they were removed after the first four test flights. It was just as well that they never had to be used, as there were very limited windows of opportunity, both during ascent and descent after re-entry. Tests showed that, had they been used when the SRBs were still attached, the seats' trajectories would have taken them, and the occupants, right into the SRB exhaust plumes.
    In his book, "Entering Space", Shuttle astronaut Joe Allen said the seats looked as lethal as the disaster they were supposed to prevent – I'm paraphrasing here, as I read the book along time ago. Any way that you look at it, ejection seats in the American Orbiter was a poor idea and the crews were not unhappy when the seats were deleted.

  23. The Buran was a great vehicle, but built for different missions. The shuttle could do more than the Buran. So no, not better just different.

  24. Will never know if it was any good one flight never did again they were unable to replicate much of his accomplishments and unable to service most of the equipment that was stolen from the USA

  25. I read an article years ago, possibly in Scientific American, possibly online, which described no less than six Burans were built before the program scrapped. There were photographs of one of them still in its production building, full of dirt and debris because years of abandonment together with heavy snow had brought down the roof onto the shuttle..

  26. By Robert Windrem
    NBC News
    Nov. 4, 1997 — When U.S. space shuttles started linking up with Russia's Mir space station in 1995, both sides owed a small debt to the old Soviet secret police, the KGB. According to documents obtained by NBC News, it was the KGB that successfully stole the U.S. shuttle design in the '70s and '80s.

    That theft permitted the Soviet Union to build its own carbon copy of the U.S. system, called the Buran, thus unintentionally laying the groundwork for the compatibility between the U.S. and Russian systems.

    Although the Soviet shuttle flew only once in 1990, it was planned in part as a space ferry to link up with Mir. That all-Soviet linkup never took place, and the Soviet shuttle was finally abandoned in 1994. But because the Soviet craft was so similar to the U.S. version, designing a Mir linkup for Atlantis and other U.S. shuttles proved simple and efficient.

  27. Did the Soviets build a better space shuttle asks the poster of this video…presumably with a straight face.
    Answer:. No. The Soviets did not build a better shuttle. You know why? ONE…just ONE mission is not an accurate measure to pose such a silly question.
    #russophile
    #commiephile

  28. The best part about this is that the Soviet's saw the budget of the shuttle program and were like: "This is way too overbudget for a scientific and exploration project so clearly it's a military thing."
    No, it was just that overpriced and expensive.

  29. A key advantage of Buran hasn't been mentioned; it carried engines which could provide it with sufficent thrust to go around during the landing if required, where space shuttle only had one chance to land.

  30. This was built because of stupid old men. If you want tech go LA, if you want banking go NY, if you want to farm go Russia.

  31. Buran was build and designed by the same team(Gleb Lozino Lozinsky) that did the MiG-31 which as of today 23/10/2019 still the fastest combat jet on Earth that reaches 3000kmph at 22.000m altitude (72.000 feet). First flight was unmanned. The narrator forgets that the Russians had the first space station called MIR long before ISS. This is a half documented story omitting important data.

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