Sunday, August 30, 2015

Russian Reusable Spacecraft Ambitions Revived

Buran spce shuttle. Credit: Energia

The Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, a Moscow-based rocket and spacecraft manufacturer, plans to revive the former Soviet Union’s winged spacecraft program, perhaps similar to the U.S.S.R’s shuttle known as Buran (Blizzard). Started in 1974, Buran was a Soviet reusable spacecraft project undertaken as a response to NASA’s Space Shuttle program.

According to a report appearing on Sputnik News, the revived version of the project, called the Reusable Space Rocket System, or MRKS, will be financed from 2021 through 2025. It will be developed under the Russian Federal Space Program and will cost no less than $185 million.According to a report appearing on Space Daily, the MRKS, could be launched from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East, will see a partially reusable launch vehicle (MRKS-1) equipped with a winged booster stage.

The reusable booster, after lifting the second, expendable stage of the MRKS vehicle into the stratosphere, would separate and return back to Earth to be prepared for its next mission.

The MRKS-1, a partially reusable modular vertical launch vehicle, is based on a winged, reusable first stage.

The vehicle features an airplane configuration and is capable of returning to the launch area for a horizontal landing. It also includes disposable second stages and upper stages. The winged first stage is equipped with reusable liquid-propellant sustainers.

The MRKS-1 will be capable of sending a wide range of payloads into space, weighing up to 35 metric tons and more. This could significantly reduce the cost of launching satellites and other spacecraft into orbit.

The Buran Program was a Soviet and later Russian reusable spacecraft project that began in 1974 at the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute and was formally suspended in 1993. It was the largest and the most expensive project in the history of Soviet space exploration.

A Buran-class orbiter, named Orbiter OK-1K1, flew to space only once in 1988 and remains the only Soviet reusable spacecraft to be launched into orbit. It was launched on Nov. 15, 1988, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The shuttle orbited the Earth twice in 206 minutes of flight. On its return, it performed an automated landing on the shuttle runway at Baikonur.

Because there were striking visual similarities between Buran and NASA’s Space Shuttle, it was speculated that espionage may have played a key role in the development of the Soviet spacecraft. However, despite external similarities, many differences existed, like the absence of the main rocket engines on the Buran shuttle. It suggests that, if espionage had been a factor in Buran’s development, it would likely have been in the form of external photography or early airframe designs.

The cancellation of the Buran project left Russia without any reusable spacecraft. Similarly, the conclusion of NASA’s Space Shuttle program in 2011 left the U.S. with no space transportation system capable of delivering astronauts into orbit.

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