(Original thread can be found here). Report from “Wedel-Schulauer Tageblatt”, Saturday 16th May 1987 “Wreckage Found in Search for Wedel Pilot” “English newspapers are reporting the discovery of wreckage believed to be from a light aircraft in the North Sea 325 km south of the Faroe Isles. The debris found so far is consistent with that of the Cessna 172P piloted by Wedel resident Mathias Rust, which was reported missing three days ago en-route from Uetersen to the Faroes. Mr. Rust, 18, had recently qualified as a solo pilot, and friends report that he was planning to visit Iceland and Norway in his rented aircraft. He was reported missing on Wednesday evening when he failed to arrive at the Faroes in accordance with his flight plan, triggering an extensive search by the British and Norwegian Coast Guards…”  Mission 1K1: Buran First Flight, November 1988 “In flight, the orbiter ‘Buran’” TASS On November 15, 1988 the Soviet Union carried out a successful test of the space shuttle "Buran" . Launched by the universal space-rocket transport system "Energia", the "Buran" orbiter went into orbit, made a double-turn flight around the Earth and landed in automatic mode on the runway of the Baikonur cosmodrome. It is an outstanding success of national science and technology, opening a new stage in the Soviet space program. "Buran" is built to the plan of a "tailless" aircraft with a variable sweep delta wing, using aerodynamic controls - the rudder and elevons - for landing after returning to the dense layers of the atmosphere, able to make a controlled descent in the atmosphere with a lateral maneuver of up to 2,000 kilometers. The length of the "Buran" is 36.4 meters, with a wingspan of about 24 meters. The height of the ship, as it stands on its landing gear, is more than 16 meters. The starting weight of the ship is more than 100 tonnes, of which 14 tonnes are fuel. In the vast cargo bay can be placed a payload weighing up to 30 tonnes. The front compartment contains a sealed cabin for the crew and most of the equipment to support the mission as part of the launch vehicle complex , autonomous flight in orbit, descent and landing. The cabin volume is more than 70 cubic meters. A very important feature of "Buran" is its powerful thermal protection, ensuring the normal thermal conditions for the body of the ship during the passage through the dense layers of the atmosphere during landing. The thermal barrier coating consists of a large number of tiles (about 38 thousand) made with high accuracy from special materials (quartz fiber, high temperature organic fibers partially carbon-based material) developed for the program, which takes into account the installation location of each tile on the fuselage. The rear part of the ship contains the main propulsion system, with two groups of maneuvering motors placed at the end of the tail section, and another group at the front of the body. The on-board control complex consists of more than fifty systems that are controlled automatically according to the program laid down in the on-board computer . The first flight of "Buran" lasted 205 minutes and ended with a successful landing on a special runway about 5 kilometers long and 80 meters wide created near the Baikonur cosmodrome. It was the first automatic landing of a space shuttle in the history of astronautics. In this new outstanding contribution to space exploration, Soviet science and technology has won a brilliant victory. ------------------------------------------------------------- From the New York Times, 29th September 1989 “Boris Yeltsin, Would-be Soviet Reformer, Dies at 58” Boris N. Yeltsin, the burly provincial politician who became the Moscow Party boss and the only person to resign from the Politburo, died yesterday in Moscow. He was 58. He was announced dead on arrival at the Central Clinical Hospital in Moscow 3:45 a.m. on Thursday morning, having been found by police officers on the banks of the Moscow River. According to a Kremlin announcement, the cause of death was drowning. An autopsy has apparently showed a high blood alcohol level, indicating that Mr. Yeltsin may have slipped whilst intoxicated and fallen into the river. Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, speaking yesterday, called Mr. Yeltsin’s “a tragic fate.”...  ------------------------------------------------------------- Moscow, May 1991 Yuri Pavlovich Semenov looked glumly out across the vast, half-empty hall of the Palace of Congresses. There was a muted sense of depression in the air as the one thousand delegates to the 28th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union slowly shuffled into the great hall under the steady gaze of the giant portrait of Lenin that formed a backdrop to the leadership’s table. The mood was hardly surprising, given the huge changes sweeping the country - changes exemplified by the rows of empty seats and, in particular, the complete absence of delegates from the Lithuanian, Estonian and Latvian Parties. Though officially still part of the Union, the three Baltic states were now well and truly estranged from the Centre following the disastrous crackdown of the previous year. Further gloom was added by uncertainty over just how much impact this Congress would have. The Party had, just barely, maintained its constitutionally-guaranteed majority in the Congress of People’s Deputies, but the commitment made under General Secretary Gorbachev to formally give up the CPSU’s monopoly on power remained official policy. The opposition Liberal Democrats and various Republic nationalist parties remained in place in the Congress, despite predictions by Western propagandists of a rapid return to Stalinism following the forced removal of Gorbachev and his replacement by Yegor Ligachyov . It hadn’t worked out that way, with Ligachyov and Defense Minister Sokolov’s heavy-handed response to the general strike instead provoking a backlash that nearly threatened to split the Union. Back-room deals between the leaders of the Republics and key Politburo members throughout the winter of 1990/91 had seen Sokolov sacked from the government and Ligachyov replaced by a compromise candidate, Kazakh party boss Nursultan Nazarbayev . The turmoil of these changes, coming on top of the economic chaos that Gorbachev had bequeathed the country, left the future more uncertain than Semenov had ever known. Although there had been a merciful roll-back on the worst excesses of Glasnost and Perestroika, the standing of the Communist Party with the public, already low, had been reduced practically to zero by the in-fighting. Everyone now accepted that there could be no return to the old ways, and it seemed that a major shake-up was in the offing, with several factions threatening to split from the Party altogether. What would that mean for the future of the country? Semenov was due to be elected to the Central Committee during this Congress, but with power increasingly shifting to the government ministries as the leadership attempted to distance itself from the deeply unpopular Communist Party, would such an honour have any meaning in this brave new world? The answer to that question was known, if by anyone, only to those due to take their seats beneath Lenin’s gaze at the top table. At that the centre of that table was the chair of General Secretary Nazarbayev. Nominally it was the man three places to his right, Defence Minister Gromov, who was the key to Semenov’s fate, as despite NPO Energia coming under the authority of the Ministry of General Machine Building, the Defence Ministry remained the main driving force behind the Soviet space programme. Since the removal of Gorbachev, the limited resources of the military had been mainly focused on combating terrorism in the Baltic States and the Caucasus (it was never referred to as civil war). Despite the freeing of manpower from the disengagement from Afghanistan - with the new Defence Minister having famously been the last Soviet soldier to leave that god-forsaken country - and the planned draw-down of forces from East Germany and the rest of the former Warsaw Pact, military costs were still out-running what resources the stumbling Soviet economy could provide. That meant that any expenditure not deemed vital to the national interest was a candidate for being excised – and Semenov’s Energia/Buran complex was a fat, tempting target. However, the General Secretary added a new factor. The space industry was important to the former head of the Kazakh party, and the Buran programme in particular had seen large quantities of money transferred to the central asian Republic . Continuing Soviet achievements in space were also helping to soften the impact of Soviet decline on the ground, giving a fig-leaf of credibility to public claims that the USSR remained a superpower. With Nazarbayev’s quiet backing the Minister of General Machine Building, Oleg Shishkin, had so far been able to defend the shuttle and its giant launcher from the hawks - but at a high cost. The Soviet Union’s flagship Mir space station was left operating with a two-man skeleton crew, her last two modules grounded until funding could be found to complete them.  The Defence Ministry’s cancellation of the Oktant missile defence payload had sucked away funds for the TKM-O module , whilst the last of the 77K modules, an Earth resources lab, had barely begun construction. As for the giant Energia-launched Mir-2 successor-station, code-named 180GK, that the Council of Ministers had approved just before Gorbachev’s removal - forget it. For Buran itself, work on the two advanced second-series orbiters, spacecraft 2.01 and 2.02, had been halted shortly after the coup, with all resources ploughed into getting vehicle 1.02 ready for her first flight - only the second of the overall programme. That mission was now officially scheduled for the coming December, a year later than originally planned, but Semenov knew that even this was no longer realistic. The orbiter needed at least another year of work, assuming his resources were not cut further. It wasn’t all gloom though, Semenov had to admit. Despite the chill in relations under Ligachyov, Nazarbayev’s appointment had led to a renewed rapprochement with the West. US President George Bush, desperate to avoid the chaotic “Yugoslavia with nukes” scenario that a collapse of the USSR would entail, had thrown his support behind Nazarbayev, and this was opening up new possibilities for the Soviet space programme. Already there had been considerable interest from the US and others at the possibility of flying Western payloads on Soviet Proton and Zenit rockets, which the Soviet design bureaux were offering at far lower prices than the Europeans or Americans could match. When Energia-M came online next year it would allow Semenov to offer ride-share missions to three or even four satellites at a time, allowing the costs to be split and - more importantly to the Energia boss - preserving the skills and facilities needed to support Buran . There had even been quiet inquiries from US companies in the possibility of purchasing copies of the Soviet staged-combustion rocket engines. The Foreign and Defence Ministries weren’t keen on the idea of selling to the West one of the few military-related products in which the USSR enjoyed a clear technological lead, but the need for hard currency was slowly overcoming the ideological and strategic objections. Besides, thought Semenov, Foreign Minister Bessmertnykh owes me one after letting the British off the hook for the cost of Sharman’s flight.  Contemplating these options for raising money through foreign sales in the global marketplace, Semenov took his seat as the sound of gavel on wood announced the start of the 28th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++  IOTL Matthias Rust went on to land his Cessna in Red Square, flying under the nose of Soviet air defences.  Incredibly, this very nearly happened IOTL. The difference here is that instead of making it to a police station soaking wet and freezing cold, Yeltsin breaths in when he should have breathed out (perhaps as a result of not gasping in surprise two years previously on hearing of a young German man landing in the heart of Moscow) and gets a lung-full of the Moscow River at an inopportune moment. Without Yeltsin’s later determination to expand his own power base as President of Russia by undercutting the authority of the central Soviet government, there is a reduced chance for Russia to secede and rip the heart from the Union.  IOTL the 28th Congress, attended by four thousand delegates, was called by Gorbachev in June 1990, a year earlier than the usual 5-year rotation. ITTL, the powers-that-be are occupied with other matters throughout 1990 and so stick to the regular schedule.  Yegor Kuzmich Ligachyov was a member of the Politburo and Second Secretary (i.e. second in command) of the Party. He started as an ally of Gorbachev but gradually came to oppose many of his policies, including glasnost and perestroika (which he’d helped to set up). He was a particular enemy of Boris Yeltsin, famously (though apocryphally) telling him at the 19th Party Conference in June 1988 “Boris, you’re wrong!”. IOTL Ligachyov was often called a hard-liner, but resisted this label. ITTL he has a powerful ally in the Politburo who solicits his support in forcing the resignation of Gorbachev.  Because of Rust’s untimely demise, Gorbachev lacked the excuse he needed to fire his troublesome Defence Minister, Sergey Sokolov. ITTL, Sokolov is able to mobilise the hardliners (including Ligachyov) against the threat Gorbachev poses to the Union earlier than happened IOTL, striking just before planned elections in the Republics in February 1990.  IOTL Nursultan Nazarbayev was the Chair of the Kazakh Communist Party (later Chair of the Kazakh Supreme Soviet and President of the Kazakh SSR) and a candidate for Soviet Vice President when Gorbachev created the post in December 1990 - a role which he turned down. He had a foot in both camps during the discussions between the leaders of the four nuclear republics (those in which Soviet nuclear weapons were stationed: Russia, Beylorussia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan) on the post-coup evolution of the USSR into the CIS, and it was unclear for a while whether he’d side with Yeltsin or Gorbachev. IOTL, he acquiesced to Yeltsin’s and Ukrainian President Kravchuk’s plans for a loose confederation with no effective centre. He went on to become president of independent Kazakhstan, the position he holds to this day, having “won” elections in 1991, 1999, 2005, 2011 and 2015, never gaining less than 80% of the vote. ITTL, with the ouster of Gorbachev playing out over a longer period and in a different way, before elections in the Republics can create alternative sources of democratic legitimacy compared to the Centre, with a weaker push for Russian independence, and no precipitous referendum on full independence for Ukraine, Nazarbayev finds himself in a position to make a play for the top job rather than remain the biggest fish in the Kazakh pond. He will re-shape the USSR into a looser union (nationalism in the Republics has to be appeased or it will tear the nation apart), but with the Centre retaining some direct taxation powers as well as exclusive control of foreign relations, the armed forces, the KGB and (importantly for this timeline) the space programme.  IOTL and ITTL “Buran” was the name given to the overall shuttle-plus-heavy-rocket programme at its inception. The rocket part was given the name “Energia” just a few days before its first launch in 1987. Similarly, the first shuttle orbiter was named “Buran” shortly before launch, having previously been photographed with the name “Baikal” painted on its side. Here, Semenov is using “Buran” in its original sense, to refer to the overall programme.  In fact Russian practice is to refer to inanimate objects, including ships and aircraft, with the masculine pronoun, but as a native English speaker that just reads wrong to me. I’ve therefore decided to stick to the English use of “her”, “she”, etc., when referring to the spacecraft in this timeline. Just imagine it’s translated from masculine in the original Russian.  OTL Spektr  OTL Priroda  IOTL, Energia-M was put up against proposals from KB Yuzhnoe (builder of Zenit) and KB Salyut (builder of Proton) in a public competition for the USSR’s next heavy launcher. Energia-M won, but was later cancelled by the Russian government. ITTL, there was no tender - Energia-M was simply anointed the successor.  Yes, Britain’s first (or is that zeroth?) astronaut still gets her flight. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Mission 2K1: Burya-Soyuz, November 1992 Preparations for launch The April 1990 decision to sacrifice work on the second series of shuttle orbiters in order to expedite the completion of the second flight model (airframe 1.02 or 2K) was not enough to meet the original planned launch date of December 1990 for the second Soviet shuttle mission. As the economic and political situation grew worse, work on outfitting spacecraft 2K (at this point still referred to by the generic nickname “Ptichka” or “Little Bird”) slowed to a crawl, as the nation was gripped by a general strike that meant needed components and personnel from the various Republics of the Union failed to arrive on schedule at the Orbiter Assembly and Test Facility (MIK OK) at Baikonur. The main body of the 2K orbiter had been delivered to the cosmodrome on the back of the VM-T “Atlant” carrier aircraft on 23rd March 1983, but the modified “Bison” bomber did not have the payload capability to transport fully outfitted shuttles, meaning that most of the work to install internal systems, as well as the wings, vertical stabiliser and the 38,800 tiles of the thermal protection system, had to be done on-site at Baikonur. This work was a lot more time consuming than had been the case for the first orbiter, 1K “Buran”, as that first mission had omitted many of the critical systems that would be needed for the more ambitious 2K1 flight. Items required for orbiter 2K that had been left out of Buran included: the actuators for the payload bay doors; a fully functioning active thermal control system; the critical Docking Module with its APAS-89 latching system; fuel cells; and a partially working life support system. In March 1992, orbiter 2K was briefly mated to the 4M Energia core stage and strap-ons and rolled out to Pad 37 at Baikonur’s Site 211 for a series of pad integration tests, followed by further testing of the airframe on the Dynamic Test Stand. Despite this apparent progress however, the orbiter was still far from ready for its flight, with large areas of the spaceplane’s surface still missing its protective tiles. After three weeks of tests, the stack was rolled back to the Rocket Assembly and Test Facility (MIK RN) and the 2K orbiter was removed from the launch vehicle. September 1992 found spacecraft 2K back in the MIK RN and finally being mated to the flight-rated Energia vehicle 3L. Originally the mission had been slated to use the 2L rocket, but as 2K1 was repeatedly delayed it was decided to use the more advanced 3L vehicle, the RD-0120 engines of which were certified for a total of 2,000 seconds firing compared to the 1,670 seconds rating for 2L. After more than four years in storage, engineers at NPO Energia and KB Energomash wished to perform more extensive tests of the launch vehicle, and the uprated engines of vehicle 3L allowed for an additional firing test at the UKSS test stand in June 1992, confirming the rocket’s readiness. Energia 2L was reallocated for use on an unmanned launch in the Energia-T configuration scheduled for some time in 1993. Although still not outfitted with all of the systems that would be needed for a manned launch, the 2K orbiter was deemed ready for this second unmanned take-off and the complex mission that would follow. The orbiter also, finally, had an official name: when the 2K/3L stack was rolled to the Assembly and Fueling Facility (MZK) for final preparations, the name “Burya” (Storm) was painted on its side. The assembled stack remained in the MZK throughout October and November 1992 as the finishing touches were added. This included the loading of hazardous items such as the sintin fuel for the propulsion system, hydrazine and nitrogen for the Auxiliary Power Units (VSUs), ammonia for the thermal control system, and the Energia strap-on boosters’ solid propellant separation charges. Cryogenic liquid oxygen for the orbiter’s propulsion system, fuel cells and life-support would be loaded on the launch pad at the same time as fueling of the Energia carrier rocket. Also added in the MZK was the payload for Burya’s mission. In addition to the pressurised 37KB instrumentation module (the very same module that had flown four years earlier on Buran), Burya was also loaded with the Docking Module (SM) that would enable it to link up with a specialised “Rescue Soyuz”, fitted with an APAS-89 androgynous docking port in place of the usual SSVP probe. With consumables and payload on-board, Energia and Burya were mated to the Blok-Ya launch table adapter and on 4th December 1992 the stack was hauled out of the MZK horizontally aboard a TAU crawler transporter that had originally been built to serve the ill-fated N-1 moon rocket. The launch pad on which the vehicle was erected, Pad 37 of the “Raskat” (“peal of thunder”) complex, had also been constructed for N-1, although it had been heavily modified for use by the Soviet shuttle. Future manned launches would make use of the neighbouring Pad 38, the shortened rotating service structure of which would give better clearance for the pilots’ ejection seats in the event of a launch pad abort. For the unmanned launch of mission 2K1, Burya would use the same Pad 37 that had been the departure point for her sister-ship Buran four years earlier. Preparing for mission 2K1 were commander/pilot Aleksey Boroday and engineer Eduard Stepanov, whose mission would be to rendezvous with Burya and dock with the shuttle in their own specially modified Soyuz TM-16 spacecraft. Stepanov was part of the cosmonaut corps based at the Cosmonaut Training Centre (TsPK) in Star City, and would be responsible for testing Burya’s on-board systems and experiments. Boroday in contrast was an Air Force test pilot from the elite State Red Banner Scientific Test Institute (GKNII), one of a cadre of military test pilots assigned to the shuttle programme. Boroday had flown six missions in the BTS-002 “Buran analogue” aircraft as part of the shuttle’s approach and landing test programme, and had flown a week long mission to Mir as the third crew member aboard Soyuz TM-13 in October 1991. His primary role would be to test the on-orbit manual flight controls of the shuttle orbiter. As Energia/Burya was rolled out to Pad 37, Boroday and Stepanov were already at Baikonur as their own Soyuz rocket was assembled at the MIK 2-1 facility. Before the loading of Energia’s propellants had started, the two cosmonauts ascended Pad 37’s service tower and entered Burya on 23rd November for a final ‘tour’ of the orbiter, familiarising themselves with the launch state of the spacecraft. Launch of Burya Fuelling operations for the 3L launcher began in the early hours of Tuesday 24th November and was completed by 9am local time. Fifteen minutes later the loading of liquid oxygen into the orbiter’s ODU propulsion system was completed. Despite a certain unfamiliarity with launch day procedures after more than four years with no Energia launches, the ground crews performed well and the countdown progressed more smoothly than had been the case for Buran’s 1K1 mission in 1988. The hydrogen-oxygen RD-0120 engines were started right on schedule at T-9.9 seconds, followed four seconds later by the kerolox RD-170 rockets of the four Blok-A strap-on boosters. Lift-off came precisely as scheduled at 06:20 UTC (09:20 Moscow time, 12:20 local time), as Energia 3L and her shuttle orbiter payload cleared the tower and began her pre-programmed roll manoeuvre. This marked three out of three successful lift-offs for the super-heavy Soviet rocket. Two minutes and twenty-six seconds into the flight, the four Blok-A boosters separated from the rocket core in two linked pairs. Shortly after separation, each pair split into its individual boosters. In a difference from the two previous Energia launches, once fully separated each of the 72-tonne boosters deployed parachutes fore and aft to slow their descent. A set of soft landing engines and shock absorbers were intended to ensure a survivable touch-down, after which the boosters would be recovered by pairs of Mi-26 helicopters for eventual re-use. However, on this first attempt the aft parachutes of one of the boosters failed to deploy, whilst a second booster suffered a malfunction of the landing rockets, resulting in both boosters being destroyed on impact. The two remaining boosters did touch down successfully some 425 km from Baikonur, but their recovery proved to be more difficult than anticipated, and neither was destined to be re-used for a launch. As the boosters heading back to the ground, Burya continued to ride the 3L core rocket towards space. The RD-0120 engines shut down at T+7m47s, leaving the stack in a sub-orbital trajectory with an apogee of 155km. Following separation from the core, Burya fired one of her two DOM engines to boost her speed by 67m/s. Half an hour later, the DOM was used once again to place Burya into her initial circular orbit at an altitude of around 250km. Up until this point, Burya’s flight had been almost identical to that of Buran, but with orbit achieved the differences between the two missions became more pronounced. Almost as soon as the DOM circularisation burn had completed, Burya automatically began opening her cargo bay doors, exposing the large radiators on their inner surface to the cold of space. This had been unnecessary on the brief, two-orbit 1K1 mission (and Buran had in any case not yet been fitted with functioning radiators), but the much longer and more capable 2K1 mission put greater thermal demands on the orbiter. Shortly after opening the payload bay, the Stellar-Solar Instrument (ZSP) attached to the front wall of the payload bay opened its own doors, allowing the star trackers to get a fix and update the inertial measurement units of the Gyro-Stabilised Platforms (GSPs). Next to deploy were the twin ONA antennas, with ONA-I swinging out from the aft wall of the payload bay, whilst ONA-II deployed from a hatch on the belly of the orbiter. These were to provide SHF communications via the Cosmos 2054 (Altair 14L) geostationary satellite. Originally one of three satellites of the Luch/Altair system, by the end of 1992 only Cosmos 2054 remained operational at 16 degrees West, giving coverage over the Atlantic Ocean for the relay of real-time telemetry to ground control at TsUP in Kaliningrad . This was especially critical as the active fleet of Soviet control and tracking ships had been reduced since Buran’s maiden flight, with only one vessel, Marshal Nedelin, being deployed to support 2K1 with coverage over the western Pacific Ocean via Burya’s omni-directional VHF and UHF transmitters. This left a brief gap in radio contact with the shuttle as it passed over the eastern Pacific and the Americas. With SHF telemetry contact established, TsUP were able to confirm that Burya was in good shape on its initial orbits. Launch of Soyuz TM-16 A day after Burya’s arrival on orbit, Baikonur was preparing for the next launch in support of mission 2K1. At Launch Complex 1 (also known as “Gagarin’s Start”), a Soyuz U2 rocket was undergoing final preparations, with Soyuz TM-16 safely in place beneath the payload shroud. As the 66th manned Soviet space mission to use a derivative of the venerable R-7 missile, preparations for the mission had proceeded far more smoothly than for the giant Energia rocket, and cosmonauts Aleksey Boroday and Eduard Stepanov duly launched at 13:12 UTC (16:12 Moscow time, 19:12 local time) on 26th November. Unusually for a Soyuz mission during the years of strained budgets in the early 1990s, there was no paying “guest cosmonaut” in the Soyuz’s third seat. It was one more reminder that this mission was far from usual. With Burya’s orbit well established by the Scientific Measurement Station (NIP) network of Soviet space tracking stations, Soyuz TM-16 commenced a standard two-day approach as it would were it on a normal mission to the Mir space station. This task was simplified by the fact that Burya’s orbit was in the same plane and altitude as Mir’s, a choice that had been made in order to allow Boroday and Stepanov to continue on to the station after undocking from the shuttle. It was therefore mid-morning on 30th November when the modified Soyuz approached to within visual range of the Burya orbiter. Initial reports from the cosmonauts indicated that Burya was in good shape. Approaching from beneath to within 200m, the Soyuz made a slow circle of the shuttle, paying particular attention to the status of the thermal protection tiles and that the cargo bay doors, ONA-II hatch and radiators had all deployed smoothly. Stepanov, who was taking photographs with a telescopic lense, noted three missing tiles on the shuttle’s body, two of which were on the spaceplane’s belly, with several others damaged. Mission controllers were not happy at this news, but recalled that Buran had lost seven tiles on her maiden flight, whilst the American Columbia had lost sixteen tiles on her first mission, and in neither case had there been mission-critical damage. With their inspection complete, Soyuz TM-16 was lined up with Burya’s APAS-89 docking port and began a slow automated approach and docking manoeuvre. All systems performed as expected, and the Soyuz came into contact with Burya at 12:48 Moscow time on 28th November, with hard-dock following a few minutes later. Operations with Soyuz TM-16 In the hour following docking, Boroday and Stepanov performed leak checks before equalising the pressure between Soyuz and Burya’s Docking Module (SM). Almost one and a half hours after docking, with all checks satisfactory, Aleksey Boroday opened the hatch and entered the SM for the first time. With Eduard Stepanov remaining aboard Soyuz in case of emergency, Boroday proceded through the SM and entered Burya’s Habitation Compartment (BO, analogous to the Mid Deck of US shuttle orbiters) via its internal airlock. Designed to hold seats for up to six crewmembers, as well as life support and crew comfort facilities, for the 2K1 test flight the BO had been left bare. Boroday therefore spent just long enough in the compartment to confirm air pressure and temperature reported on the 17M212 instrument panel were within norms, before passing through the left interdeck opening to the Command Compartment (KO, or flight deck). The KO was in a similarly stripped-down condition, with only the commander’s seat installed in the cabin. In place of the co-pilot’s seat, a TV camera was bolted to the floor and positioned to look through the forward cabin window. This was similar to the system that had been installed in the Commander’s position for Buran’s first flight in 1988 and would provide a pilot’s eye view of Burya’s planned unmanned reentry and landing operations. On his initial entry, Boroday’s first priority was to establish communications with TsUP via Burya’s on-board air-to-ground systems. This he accomplished via both the VHF line-of-sight system and the twin SHF ONA antennas via Cosmos 2054. Boroday was joined by Stepanov aboard Burya one hour after entering the ship, and together they ran through a power-up and check-out sequence of the shuttle’s on-board systems. Checks of the 37KB test payload were made via the RM-6 console at the rear of the KO, with Boroday confirming the status of the single On-Board Manipulator System (SBM) robot arm via the RM-5 console beneath the rear port window, looking out onto the payload bay. Nominally intended to carry two robot arms, funding restrictions had meant that only one SRM could be brought to flight-ready status for the 2K1 mission. The two cosmonauts continued to run systems tests throughout the day, before retiring to their Soyuz spacecraft for the evening. Although they would have preferred to sleep in Burya’s roomy Habitation Compartment, TsUP wanted to ensure the crew could make a quick escape should anything go wrong in the night, not to mention the lack of galley and toilet facilities aboard the shuttle. The next day, 29th November, saw the crew re-enter Burya and run a series of tests with the SBM robot arm. The arm was unlatched from its hold-down position and carefully extended outwards from the shuttle, before the upper arm was brought back towards the fuselage. The arm was then returned to its storage position under automatic control, whilst Stepanov carefully monitored the operation to ensure that there was no chance of the arm damaging their Soyuz spacecraft. With the arm re-stowed, Boroday took his place in the Commander’s seat and performed a number of minor attitude adjustments under manual control, verifying his ability to pilot the space plane. Performance was reported as being crisp, despite the off-axis load of Soyuz. Soyuz TM-16 Undocks Boroday and Stepanov entered Burya for the last time on the morning of 30th November. After performing final checks and monitoring the loading of the autonomous return software into the shuttle’s Biser-4 computers, they safed Burya’s systems and returned to Soyuz TM-16, sealing the SM hatch behind them. Undocking occurred at 09:29 Moscow time, and after one final inspection pass around the orbiter the two cosmonauts departed Burya, heading for a rendezvous with the Mir space station the next day. Their mission to Mir saw the first use of the Kristall module’s APAS-89 docking port, as Soyuz TM-16 lacked the probe-and-drogue interface required to use one of the station’s axial ports. This also marked only the second time a crew had visited three different spacecraft during a mission, following Soyuz T-15 mission in 1986, when Leonid Kizim and Vladimir Solovyov transferred from Mir to Salyut-7 and back again. Boroday and Stepanov relieved the crew of Soyuz TM-15, Anatoly Solovyev and Sergei Avdeyev, as the resident crew of Mir Expedition EO-13 for the next six months. Burya returns Following the departure of the crew, ground control at TsUP began uplinking commands to prepare Burya for its re-entry. With the GSP inertial guidance platforms confirmed to be correctly aligned, the two ONA antennas were retracted and the payload bay doors were closed and locked. At 10:14 Moscow time on 30th November, as Burya passed over the south Pacific, the DOM orbital manoeuvring engines were fired and the shuttle began its descent into the upper atmosphere. As it passed below the 100km Karman Line at a speed of Mach 28, the three Auxilliary Power Units were activated, beginning Burya’s transformation from a rocket-propelled spacecraft to an aerodynamically controlled aircraft. Burya’s automatic systems kept the shuttle at an angle of attack of 39 degrees as it decelerated to Mach 10, performing a number of roll reversal manouevres to bleed off energy as temperatures on the thermal protection system reached as high as 1 650 degrees Celsius. Burya entered its Pre-Landing Manoeuvring phase at an altitude of 20km, reducing its angle of attack to 10 degrees and reducing speed to Mach 2 as it lined up on the Yubileynyy runway at Baikonur. Consideration had been given to landing Burya at the back-up landing facility at Simferopol in the Crimea, but with the single Mriya transport plane declared non-flightworthy due to insufficient funding to complete planned maintenance, it would have been several months before the shuttle could have been returned to Baikonur. By this point Burya was under escort by cosmonaut-pilot Igor Volk in the Mig-25 SOTN chase plane. As the shuttle approached the point at which it would select which of the two Heading Alignment Cylinders (TsVK) it would use for final approach, Volk backed off from the spaceplane: this was the point at which Buran had startled its controllers by (correctly, as it turned out) snapping over to the northern Cylinder rather than taking the expected southern path. Burya however proved more predictable than her sister ship, selecting the southern Cylinder for a final energy-reducing turn before exiting the TsVK 14.5 km from the runway for the final descent. Without the jet engines planned for later missions, Burya now entered a 19 degree glideslope towards the Yubileynyy runway before performing a pre-flare manoeuvre at 450m altitude to reduce the slope to 2 degrees. The landing gear were deployed and Burya made a final flare at 20m before settling onto the runway 5m left of the centreline at a speed of 260km/h. Burya immediately deployed its braking parachute and activated the main brakes on the landing gear, bringing the spaceplane to a halt 1 700m from the touchdown point. Wheels stopped at 14:06 local time, bringing mission 2K1 to a successful conclusion. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++  Boroday takes the place of Toktar Aubakirov on Soyuz TM-13 in order to get a spaceflight under his belt, in keeping with the Soviet tradition since Soyuz-11 that a mission commander must always have spaceflight experience. IOTL Aubakirov and Austrian guest cosmonaut Franz Viehböck spent seven days aboard Mir before returning with Soyuz TM-12, whilst Soyuz TM-13 commander Aleksandr Volkov remained on board Mir. Aubakirov, a Kazakh, had been included as part of a deal between the Soviet central government and increasingly autonomous Kazakh SSR, and had not been trained for a long duration mission. ITTL, butterflies on internal Soviet politics mean the deal never takes place.  IOTL Kaliningrad, a suburb of Moscow, was renamed Korolev in 1996, both honouring the former Chief Designer and removing the chance for confusion with the city formally known as Königsberg. At this point ITTL the name change has not happened. ------------------------------------------------------------- The technical details in this section (and indeed the entire timeline) leaned heavily upon the indispensable “Energiya-Buran: The Soviet Space Shuttle” by Bart Hendrickx and Bert Vis. I cannot recommend it highly enough as the best English language description I’ve come across of Buran’s development. Also of great use was the buran.ru website. I recommend using the Russian language version of the website (with GoogleTranslate helping as appropriate for non-Russian speakers like me), as it has far more details than the English site, as well as excellent CGI models of the shuttle and associated vehicles far surpassing the level of accuracy and detail I could muster. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Mission 2K2: Burya-Mir, February 1994 Defining the mission Following the success of mission 2K1 there had been calls within the Soviet government to skip the remaining unmanned test flights and to launch the next mission with cosmonauts on board. Although the engineers at the newly-established Soviet Space Agency (Vsesoyuznyy Kosmicheskoye Agentstvo, VKA - literally the “All-Union Space Agency” ) and RKK Energia were gaining confidence with their shuttle, there were practical considerations that argued against rushing ahead. Although spacecraft 2K (Burya) had been fitted with a partially functioning life support system for her maiden flight, she was still missing much of the equipment that would be needed for a manned launch. The most critical of these were the ejection seats and related emergency escape equipment, which the Soviets viewed as being absolutely essential for the first manned missions after witnessing the tragedy of Challenger. The pilot’s control console was also missing, and many of the other control stations were not fully connected to their systems. Less glamorous items such as a functioning galley and sanitation facilities would also have to be added. Work had re-started on outfitting Buran (spacecraft 1K) to a full crewed capability in mid-1992, but the shuttle was still not expected to be ready until the end of 1994 at the earliest. Bringing Burya up to that standard would take a similar amount of time, meaning no manned launch was likely before the start of 1995. With the Supreme Soviet voting to cancel funding for unmanned Energia-T launches in October 1992, and with the cheaper Energia-M suffering more delays, this would mean a more than two-year gap in Energia launches, exacerbating problems in retaining qualified technical staff and keeping the facilities at Baikonur well maintained. These issues had already led to the decision to mothball Pad 37 and the UKSS test stand, leaving Pad 38 as the only complex from which Energia could be launched. Further cuts could result in the aging infrastructure being unable to support the giant rocket at all. These realities led to the decision in February 1993 to continue the upgrade of Buran for a targeted first manned mission in early 1995, whilst Burya would undergo a minimal post-flight refurbishment for a second unmanned mission in late 1993. Mission 2K2 (Mission 2 of orbiter 2K) would perform the second part of the activities that had originally been intended as part of 2K1: an automated docking with the Mir space station. Preparations for launch Following her landing at Baikonur’s Yubileynyy runway on 30th November 1992, Burya first had her propulsion system drained of residual liquid oxygen, with both oxygen and hydrogen then removed from the fuel cells. The spaceplane was next transferred to the Assembly and Fueling Facility (MZK) for the removal of any remaining fuel and other hazardous liquids. The exhausted batteries were also removed, followed by the extraction of the 37KB and docking modules from the payload bay. On 10th December the shuttle was moved from the MZK to the Transfer Bay of the MIK OK Orbiter Assembly and Test Facility, where a crane lifted Burya and carried her to Bay 102 for inspection and renovation of the thermal protection system. Inspections of Burya’s thermal protection system revealed five tiles missing (compared with seven on Buran’s initial flight), but many more damaged. Some of this appeared to be the result of ice impacts during launch, but most of the damage to tiles on the belly of the orbiter came from plasma jets generated during re-entry by the aerodynamic effects of gaps between the tiles. The US Space Shuttle avoided this problem by laying its belly tiles at an angle to the direction of flight and using a special ‘gap-filler’ material to make them tight, but the Soviet orbiters placed the rows of tiles perpendicular to the nose, relying on an organic felt filler material and precision placement to keep the gaps too small to generate plasma jets. On Buran this had proved mostly successful, but the cut-backs of the early 1990s had evidently led to a reduction in quality control, with Burya showing evidence of five times as many plasma jets compared with Buran. The replacement of the damaged tiles and inspections of the rest of the thermal protection system were completed by the end of March 1993, but Burya was to remain in Bay 102 until May. This was due to the next area of the MIK OK, the Assembly Bay 103, being occupied by orbiter 1K Buran, which was undergoing installation of its life support system. The prototype orbiter was eventually moved to the MZK for further work, freeing up Bay 103 for Burya, which was then able to undergo systems checks and minor repair work from its flight six months previously. Burya was next moved to Bay 104 for electrical and control system checks in June before proceeding to the anechoic chamber in Bay 105 for radio systems checks. In August 1993 Burya finally left the MIK OK and moved to the MZK (Buran having relocated back to the MIK OK Bay 102 in July) for fueling in preparation for APU and propulsion system test firings at the Site 254 test stand (the stand’s own propellant fueling systems having been decommissioned the previous year as a money saving measure). Burya was then forced to wait a further two months in the MIK OK as Energia vehicle 4L was put together in the MIK RN. Tensions between the Ukrainian SSR and the Soviet central government over control of the privatisation of state companies (and the money and powers of patronage resulting from their sale to political allies), including OKB Yuzhnoye, had delayed the delivery of the Blok-A booster rockets from their Dnipropetrovsk factory, and so the stacking of vehicle 4L did not start until October 1993. It was not until early December that Burya was finally moved to the MIK RN and joined to her carrier rocket. Once again, the venerable 37KB instrument module and SM docking module were installed in Burya’s payload bay, but this time they were joined by the 1 tonne Fosvich-2 X-ray telescope, which Burya would deliver to Mir and attach to the lateral docking port of the station’s Kristall module. Other preparations were also underway for the mission. 6th December 1993 had seen the launch of Soyuz TM-18 to the Mir space station carrying cosmonauts Aleksandr Viktorenko, Yury Usachov and Valeri Polyakov. Polyakov was destined to remain aboard Mir for over a year before returning to Earth with Soyuz TM-20 in January 1995, setting a new record for long duration spaceflight. Conversely, Usachov and Viktorenko were part of a standard 6 month expedition (Mir EO-15), and would return home in Soyuz TM-18 in May 1994. Together, this team would be responsible for supporting Burya’s docking to the station and the subsequent test activities.  Viktorenko had been selected to command the station during the 2K1 mission specifically for his experience with the shuttle programme, as he had been selected in 1978 as one of the cohort of shuttle cosmonauts from the Cosmonaut Training Centre (TsPK) at Star City. This training, plus his later experience on the Soyuz TM-3 and TM-8 missions to Mir, made him the ideal candidate to assess the performance of the Burya orbiter. 2K2 Launches The Burya/4L stack was finally towed to Raskat Pad 38 in late January 1994, almost 14 months after the shuttle’s last launch from the neighbouring Pad 37. Despite the increasingly tough budget cutbacks, the ground crews at Baikonur continued to work with dedication and pride, and with the experience of 2K1 under their belts were able to complete launch preparations even faster than in 1992. With no countdown holds, ignition of the Energia core engines came as planned at 08:57 local time (02:57 UTC) on 7th February, with the four Blok-A boosters following on schedule, lifting Energia 4L from the pad at precisely the time needed to intercept Mir’s orbital plane. Booster separation came two and a half minutes later, but despite all four Blok-A rockets making successful soft-landings downrange, no immediate attempt was made to retrieve them. The necessary recovery forces were no longer available, and with the low launch rate of Energia coming to be accepted, re-use would simply not be economical. Vehicle 4L would be the last Energia to include recovery equipment in the Blok-As, with future launches using the simpler, stripped-down version of the boosters originally developed for Energia-M. As on all three previous launches, the core stage RD-0120 engines performed flawlessly, delivering its shuttle cargo into a sub-orbital trajectory eight minutes after ignition. Separation of Burya from the booster and the firing of its DOM manoeuvring engines also occurred as planned, and thirty minutes later TsUP controllers were able to confirm Burya was in a stable parking orbit around the Earth. With the launch and early orbit operations phase of the mission now completed, the Biser-4 computers comprising Burya’s Central Computing System were commanded to load their rendezvous and docking application software into their RAM from the magnetic tapes of the Mass Memory Unit. This was necessary because the limited memory of the Biser-4 units (equivalent to 524 kB of RAM each) meant that it was not possible to run software for all mission phases at once. The new application installation process had been extensively tested on the ground in the OK-KS electrical analogue and in both Burya and Buran in ground tests, and this testing paid off with all four Biser-4 units successfully transitioning to the new software. This done, the orbiter began its two-day chase of the Mir space station. Rendezvous and Docking with Mir The initial orbit adjustment to begin rendezvous with Mir was triggered on Burya’s third orbit on the afternoon of 7th February, involving a short, ten-second burn of the starboard DOM manoeuvring engine. Over the the next day several minor adjustments were made with both the DOM and the smaller RSU Reaction Control System engines to match Burya’s orbit with Mir’s. These manoeuvres were performed automatically without ground intervention, guided by the GSP with updated state vectors derived from the RVV Vertical Radio Altimeter and the PRZS Sunrise/Sunset Detection Instrument. Also during this period, the Docking Module was powered up and its docking tunnel, topped by the APAS-89 port, was extended to its full 5.7m height, ensuring the port interface was clear of the top of Burya’s crew cabin. Finally, APAS-89’s guide ring was extended, putting the docking port into its “active” configuration and its supporting Kurs docking antennas swung into their deployed position. The shuttle’s Mutual Measurement System (SBI), a radar acquired the space station at a range of 40km, guiding Burya into its terminal approach phase at a distance of 15km on the morning of 9th February. Burya initially approached Mir from below, along the Mir-Earth axis, to take advantage of natural gravitational forces in braking the shuttle. As Burya closed to within 1km it repositioned itself ahead of Mir in its orbital track, aligned with the Kristall module’s own APAS-89 port, Kristall having been repositioned by its Lyappa robot arm to Mir’s forward axial X- port a week earlier to provide better clearance and structural strength for the docking attempt. As a safety measure, cosmonauts Viktorenko, Usachov and Polyakov boarded their Soyuz TM-18 spacecraft and undocked from the station. Burya massed as much as the entire Mir space station, meaning any impact could be catastrophic, and so no chances were to be taken on this initial docking attempt. As a final precaution, Kristall’s large solar arrays were stowed for the final approach to avoid damage from Burya’s RSU engine plumes. As the three cosmonauts watched from a safe distance, with Burya coming to within 30m of the station, the SBI radar suddenly lost lock, and the shuttle automatically reversed its approach to keep clear of the station. The cosmonauts were ordered to return to Mir whilst TsUP controllers analysed the situation, and it was soon determined that the problem was caused by unexpected multipath interference as the radar reflected and re-reflected from the structure of Mir and the shuttle’s own bulky fuselage. This caused the received signal to degrade below the threshold set by mission rules, triggering an abort. Further investigations overnight showed that it should be possible dock safely using just the Kurs system, and preparations were made to repeat the attempt. The next day, 10th February, with the station’s crew once again watching nervously from a distance in Soyuz TM-18, Burya began its second approach to the station. This time the shuttle continued past the 30m mark to continue closing on Kristall at a rate of 5cm/s. At 07:39 UTC / 10:39 Moscow Time, as the complex overflew the Soviet-Mongolian border, the latches on Burya’s APAS-89 capture ring engaged with their counterparts on Kristall’s docking port. The latches then closed and the capture ring retracted to enable a hard dock. The Burya-Mir complex was now the largest structure ever assembled in orbit. Operations at Mir In the hour following docking, Viktorenko and Usachov performed leak checks of the Kristall docking compartment before equalising the pressure between Kristall and Burya’s Docking Module (SM), after which Aleksandr Viktorenko opened the hatch and entered the SM. Whilst Polyakov remained aboard Mir, Viktorenko and Usachov proceeded onwards to Burya’s Habitation Compartment. As on its previous mission, the compartment was in a heavily stripped-down state, although additional life support equipment had been fitted in the lower deck beneath the BO. The flight deck was also largely identical to its 2K1 configuration, although a check of the RM-5 console at the back of the compartment confirmed what the crew had seen from outside, that Burya was now carrying two SBM robot arms instead of the single arm that had flown in 1992. Viktorenko was quickly able to establish communications with his comrades on Mir and the controllers at TsUP via Burya’s VHF system, but the SHF ONA-I antenna had difficulty in locking onto the Cosmos 2054 relay satellite due to Mir’s bulk obstructing its field of view. Aboard Mir, Polyakov reported fewer problems with the station’s ONA antenna, placed as it was at the opposite end of the complex from Burya, but communications problems would continue to be a feature of shuttle-Mir missions into the future. With basic communications established between station and shuttle, the two cosmonauts next ran checks on the 37KB test payload and the Fosvich-2 X-ray telescope via the RM-6 console at the rear of the KO, with Viktorenko confirming the readiness of the two On-Board Manipulator System (SBM) robot arms via the RM-5 console beneath the rear port window, looking out onto the payload bay. With all systems showing nominal performance, the two cosmonauts returned to Kristall having spent almost five hours aboard the shuttle orbiter. The next day, 11th February, saw Burya deliver its payload to Mir. This time Viktorenko entered the shuttle alone whilst Usachov remained on Mir with Polyakov. Once in place at the RM-5 workstation, with good lighting conditions from both bright sunlight and the floods in Burya’s payload bay, Viktorenko powered up the portside SBM arm and initiated a pre-programmed sequence to position the arm’s end effector above the ‘grab point’ of the Fosvich-2 telescope. With Viktorenko monitoring the whole process through both the RM-5 CRT displays and the payload bay window, over the course of fifteen minutes the SBM correctly moved into position, with the cosmonaut guiding the final capture manually using the arm’s video camera. Following a pause as the station passed over the nightside of its orbit, the return of daylight saw Viktorenko command the release of the payload bay latches holding Fosvich-2 in place, then used the arm to swing the telescope up out of the bay and into position in front of Kristall’s second, lateral APAS-89 docking port. The next phase of the manoeuvre was the most critical. Kristall’s lateral port was attached to the same docking compartment as the port to which Burya was connected, so any damage to the compartment could block Viktorenko’s route back to Mir. An Orlan-DMA spacesuit had been stowed in the Habitation Compartment in case it became necessary for Viktorenko to spacewalk back to the station, but if the shuttle’s SM Docking Module were also damaged it could be necessary to exit via the portside crew access hatch normally only used on the launch pad. With no convenient handrails to aid an EVA, the space suited Viktorenko would have to assemble a deployable pole in the BO and attach it to the interior of the hatch before extending the structure to form a bridge to the safetly of Kristall. Fortunately, such extreme contingency measures proved unnecessary, as over the next two orbits Viktorenko successfully mated Fosvich-2’s APAS port with that of Kristall. Initial problems with achieving a hard dock were solved by cycling the power to the latches on the Kristall side (basically, switching it off and on again). At the end of the day, with Viktorenko back on board Mir, Usachov was able to open the hatch to Fosvich-2’s small control compartment and begin wiring up power and control connections. Activation of the X-ray telescope would have to await Burya’s departure and the extension once more of Kristall’s solar arrays, but the shuttle’s first operational payload had been safely delivered. Undocking and landing Burya was to remain docked at the station for just three days - a limit set due to the shuttle being configured for just eight-days total endurance, plus the need to keep some margin should there be problems with the de-orbit. The hatches between Kristall’s docking compartment and Burya’s SM were sealed late on 11th February, with depressurisation of the two compartments starting on the morning of the 12th. The latches on the station-side APAS-89 interface were retracted at 07:17 UTC on 12th February, as the complex passed over the Ukraine, and Burya fired its DO vernier engines under automatic control to slowly back away from the station. The cosmonauts aboard Mir reported minimal disruption as the massive shuttle departed, completing validation of Burya’s ability to perform all nominal station support operations. Re-entry and landing followed later the same day, with Burya coming to a halt on the Yubileynyy runway at 10:58 UTC, bringing an end to another successful mission. Although Burya’s stay at the station was brief, the data obtained would prove vital in preparing future shuttle docking missions with Mir, as well as feeding into plans for the station’s successor. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++  The VKA is TTL’s equivalent of the Russian Space Agency, created during the reforms of the early ‘90s to distance the technical side of the Soviet space programme from direct political supervision. It remains under the auspices of the Ministry of General Machine Building (MOM) and closely tied to the Defence Ministry.  Various butterflies mean Soyuz TM-18 (and the other Soyuz missions since TM-16) are launched approximately 2 months ahead of their OTL schedule. Aleksandr Viktorenko takes the place of Viktor Afanasyev on Soyuz TM-18. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Mission 1K2: Buran Flies Again, March 1995 The Decision to Fly Unlike its US counterpart, it had always been intended that the Soviet space shuttle would undergo multiple unmanned launches before risking a crew. The scars of the Soyuz 1 and Soyuz 11 disasters were still fresh in the minds of many, and Soviet space managers had watched in horror as Bob Crippen and John Young had climbed aboard Columbia for the very first launch of the STS complex in 1981. The aftermath of the 1986 Challenger disaster, which amongst other things had highlighted the lack of escape options for crews of the American shuttle, re-enforced the Soviet view that their own space shuttle would have to prove itself in an automatic mode before any cosmonaut lives would be risked. This cultural imperative delaying a crewed launch was then further enhanced by budgetary realities, which meant that neither of the two operational orbiters could be fitted with the necessary systems to support a full-up crewed mission for many years. However, by 1994, with three automatic launches and landings successfully completed and with spacecraft 1K Buran finally upgraded with all the requisite systems, the go-ahead was given for mission 1K2, the first manned launch of the Energia programme. The Ship Buran had made the first orbital flight of the Soviet shuttle programme in 1988, but six years later she was a very different ship. Like her sister orbiter Burya, Buran now had all of the power, thermal control and avionics systems needed for missions of up to eight days duration. Buran’s Command Compartment (KO), the flight deck of the spaceplane, was now fitted out with a full array of command consoles and display units, all linked to the main Biser-4 computers via the Adonis display processor. These control systems had all undergone extensive testing and debugging in the OK-KS electrical analogue test model at Kaliningrad before being integrated with Buran at Baikonur and then subjected to even more tests. In a further change from her maiden flight, Buran’s KO now contained two K-36RB ejection seats, one each for the commander and pilot. These were modifications of the K-36 family of seats used in all Soviet high performance aircraft, customised to allow the cosmonauts to escape at any point from an on-pad abort up until around T+100s into the mission, when Buran reached 35km altitude at Mach 3.5. The two additional ejection seats that would normally be installed on the flight deck were omitted for mission 1K2 as no mission specialist/flight engineers would be carried on this occasion. Similarly, the mid-deck Habitation Compartment (BO) was left without ejection seats, avoiding the need to relocated the BO’s forward equipment bay to give the seats clear access to the escape hatches aft of the RCS thrusters in the orbiter’s nose. Although bereft of ejection seats, Buran’s BO was now fitted with sleeping and washing facilities, a small galley, and a number of experiments (including three from ESA and one from NASA) housed in the deck’s equipment bays. Beneath the BO, the Aggregate Compartment (AO) had been upgraded with all the oxygen tanks, condensation and water recyclers, fire suppression, power and other systems that would keep the crew alive and safe during their stay on orbit. As Mission 1K2 was planned to dock with Mir, Buran’s payload bay was fitted with an SM docking module. However, on this occasion the 37KB instrumentation module that had been carried for all three unmanned shuttle launches was left out. Instead the payload processing technicians in the MIK RN loaded another 37K-based capsule, the 37KT logistics module . Loaded with five tonnes of fresh supplies and experiments for Mir, this module would be swapped out with the Fosvich-2 telescope on Kristall’s lateral APAS-89 port, taking advantage of the shuttle’s heavy payload capability to replace two of the regular Progress cargo missions. Although an expensive way to resupply the station, it would allow an otherwise non-operational test flight to make a positive contribution to the upkeep of the aging space station, as well as testing out techniques for the construction of Mir’s replacement. The Crew The cosmonauts chosen to pilot Buran through its first crewed mission were Igor Volk and Magomed Tolboyev. Both had been selected for the shuttle programme as part of the Zhukovsky-based Flight Research Institute’s (LII) team of “civilian” pilots, with Volk being named in the original 1977 group and Tolboyev being added in 1982. Volk had previously piloted the MiG 105.11 “Lapot” test vehicle (part of the abandoned Spiral two-stage spaceplane), and he quickly rose to become the leader of the LII team, who subsequently became known as the “Wolf Cubs” (a play on Volk’s name, “volk” being Russian for “wolf”). Despite the fact that the Wolf Cubs formed a year later than the Cosmonaut Training Centre’s (TsPK) own team of nine pilots, the LII group came to the fore in 1981, when the Aviation Ministry (MAP) announced they were forming their own cosmonaut team for shuttle missions, in competition with TsPK’s parent Ministry of General Machine Building (MOM). The Wolf Cubs were reassigned to the MAP group and given the task of leading the atmospheric and orbital test flights of the shuttle. This testing began in earnest in 1984 with the Horizontal Flight Test campaign using the BTS-002 “Buran Analogue” aircraft, a scale copy of the planned shuttle orbiter fitted with additional jet engines to enable it to take off under its own power. Volk in particular was heavily involved in this campaign, piloting the vehicle for 15 of the 21 ground and airborne test runs. Both Volk and Tolboyev also spent many hours in simulators at NPO Molniya and at the Orbiter Simulator Building (KTOK) at Star City. Tolboyev also got to see Buran in action close-up when he piloted the MiG-25 SOTN chase plane that had followed Buran on its unmanned return to Baikonur in 1988. That mission had showcased Tolboyev’s piloting skills in an unexpected way as the orbiter had suddenly changed course during its final approach, forcing Tolboyev to make a high-G turn to avoid a possible mid-air collision with the spacecraft. Despite the earlier decision in 1992 for the 2K1/Soyuz TM-16 docking with Burya to be given to a joint TsUP/Air Force team, by 1993 the MAP Wolf Cubs were once again assigned to lead the manned test flight programme. Volk and Tolboyev were therefore confirmed as the prime crew for mission 1K2 in July 1994, with Viktor Zabolotskiy and Ural Sultanov named as their back-ups. All four cosmonauts now began mission-specific training at Star City and Baikonur, utilising not only the shuttle simulators but also those for Mir and Soyuz. This last was important in case the need should arise to abandon the shuttle in orbit and either wait on Mir for pick-up, or dock with an APAS-equipped “Rescue Soyuz” spacecraft, one of which (serial number 102, designated Soyuz TM-21) would be on standby at Baikonur during the entirety of the mission. Assigned to pilot this potential rescue mission was Eduard Stepanov, TsUP veteran of the Soyuz TM-16 mission that had docked with Burya. If needed, he would be able to launch at 2 days notice, flying his Soyuz solo to dock with Buran and pick up Volk and Tolboyev. In the more optimistic scenario that no such rescue would prove necessary, Stepanov would stand down and his Soyuz would be held for the next planned crew rotation flight to Mir. Launch Buran was rolled out to Site 110’s Pad 38 astride Energia Vehicle 5L in early March 1995, keeping the pace of approximately one year between shuttle launches that had held since late 1992. In most respects the roll-out was indistinguishable from the earlier shuttle missions, but the 1K2 did sport one clearly visible difference: instead of the boxy grey containers of the recovery mechanisms, the four Blok-A boosters were a smooth, unblemished white. With recovery and refurbishment of the boosters now deemed uneconomical, the complicated system of parachutes, retro-rockets and landing legs could be omitted, aligning the Blok-A rockets more closely with their Zenit-2 counterparts. Ambitious plans to eventually turn the core stage into a fully re-usable flyback booster had also been abandoned as unrealistic. As the US had discovered with their own shuttle, Soviet engineers were reassessing whether the benefits of re-use were really worth the complications of refurbishment. The harsh environment at Baikonur meant that the Soviet shuttle underwent almost all of its preparations before roll-out, and so spent less time on the pad than its American counterpart. The main operations left to complete were the loading of cryogens into the orbiter’s fuel cells and ODU propulsion system and the fuelling of the Energia core and booster stages. Fuelling was carried out completely automatically, and so it was not until the rocket was fully loaded early on the morning 14th March that Volk, Tolboyev and their accompanying team of technicians prepared to join the ship on the pad. This would mark the first Soviet manned launch not using a derivative of Korolev’s original R-7 missile, and so the bus took a different route from that which had become standard for more than thirty years. Nevertheless, Buran’s crew still marked the occasion in the traditional manner, with Volk announcing his crew’s readiness for the mission to Defence Minister Morozov before boarding the bus that would take them out to the Raskat complex. Whether or not they also honoured the tradition of stopping the bus halfway to piss on the wheels, as Gagarin is alleged to have done, is unreported in the official press release. At the base of the pad the cosmonauts and technicians climbed aboard the trolleys that would carry them through an enclosed pipeline to the orbiter access arm on one of the twin fixed service towers flanking the launcher. Once at the top, the team accessed Buran via the hatch in the BO mid-deck, carefully stepping only on marked areas of the “back wall” of the vertically tilted orbiter and ducking through to the KO flight deck. Here Volk and Tolboyev were helped into their ejection seats, the technicians strapping them in firmly and running final checks on the Strizh pressure suits that would protect the cosmonauts in case of cabin pressure failure or a bail-out. This done, the technicians withdrew from the orbiter cabin, sealing the access hatch behind them before once more riding the trolley system to the base of the pad (resisting the urge to take a shortcut through the lower of the two pipes, that housing the emergency escape chute, as many off-duty personnel were rumoured to do for fun). The countdown proceeded under automatic computer control, leaving little for Volk and Tolboyev to do but respond to radio check requests. The three CRT displays of their Vega-1 control consoles ran through their pre-programmed sequences exactly as the two pilots had seen countless times in the simulator. Despite this veneer of familiarity, both cosmonauts felt the unique tension in their stomachs that told them that this time it was the real thing, that they really were strapped into an ungainly glider hitched to several tanks of highly flammable liquids just waiting to explode. Then, at T-9.9 seconds the sixteen combustion chambers of the four Blok-A boosters lit, transmitting a strong vibration and steady roar through the body of the launcher, heard now for the first time by human passengers. Just five seconds later the hydrogen/oxygen core stage engines added their voice to the cacophony, and Energia/Buran slipped free of the launch pad and rose into the sky at 11:12am Moscow time. Attaining Orbit Buran’s second ascent to orbit proceeded as smoothly as her first had, and with almost the same amount of pilot input, with the cosmonauts’ primary duty being to trigger the opening and closing of vents to release trapped air as the spacecraft ascended. This important duty aside, for the shuttle’s human crew the voyage was primarily marked by the steady progression of abort options. After T+1m40s ejection was no longer a possibility, with an Emergency Separation of the orbiter from the stack or a Return Manoeuvre, shutting down and dumping the boosters before turning the core and orbiter back towards Baikonur, being the two viable options (although for many of the cosmonauts and engineers involved “viable” was a relative term, with Emergency Separation in particular seen as being extremely risky). With Blok-A separation occurring on-schedule at T+2m26s, these two scenarios remained in play, but by T+3m10s the ship had passed beyond the envelope for a Return Manoeuvre, with the option in case of a core engine failure now becoming a Single Orbit Trajectory (equivalent to a NASA Abort to Orbit or Abort Once Around). This remained the primary abort option all the way up until the core engines shut down at T+7m47s, which occurred as planned for mission 1K2. Volk and Tolboyev reported no problems following core stage separation, and a few minutes later the DOM manoeuvring engines fired to put Buran into orbit for the first time in over six years. Early orbital operations such as the opening of the payload bay doors and deployment of the radiators and ONI antennas proceeded under automatic control, monitored by the two cosmonauts. Volk and Tolboyev spent their first three hours on-orbit running through careful checks of all of Buran’s vital equipment, paying particular attention to the life support systems. Having satisfied both themselves and mission control that there were no significant problems, the pair stripped out of their pressure suits and took a belated lunch in the BO’s new galley. Both later reported amazement at how much larger Buran’s cabin felt than that of the Soyuz spacecraft to which earlier cosmonauts had been accustomed, with weightlessness making it feel larger than even the mock-up cabins in which they had trained. The afternoon’s activities mainly focussed on performing the necessary burns to move Buran towards a rendezvous with Mir. Communications with TsUP in Kaliningrad were improved over previous missions following the recent launches of the Gelios-11L and 12L “Luch 2” relay satellites, which had replaced the expired Altair 14L. Following an evening meal and use of the wash facilities, the two crewmen set up their sleeping bags in the flight deck and settled in for the evening. Although the flight plan had been for Volk to sleep in the KO whilst Tolboyev used the BO, the cosmonauts preferred to share the flight deck, partially to give them both easy access to the controls in case of emergence, but mainly so Tolboyev would also be able to watch the Earth through the KO’s large windows. Docking with Mir The next day was largely uneventful as Buran closed in on Mir, with Buran making her final approach to the station on the morning of 16th March. Unlike the automated docking of Burya on mission 2K2, for Buran’s 1K2 mission the Kristall module remained berthed at the station’s -Y lateral port, with the station forming a large ‘T’ shape in space. The experience of 2K2 had indicated that the off-axis loads of a shuttle docking in that position could easily be compensated for by Mir’s VDU thruster pack, and so the added effort of relocating the module to the axial port was deemed not to be worthwhile. In an additional change since the earlier docking, Kristall’s large solar wings had been relocated to the Kvant-1 module, meaning there was no need to stow them and suffer the subsequent loss of power that had been necessary to accommodate Burya. In a final, welcome change from the earlier mission, Buran made a smooth and uneventful final approach to Mir, with no reoccurrence of the SBI radar issues that had delayed Burya’s docking. Buran docked at Kristall’s axial APAS port at 09:45 Moscow time on 16th March. Two hours later the hatch between Kristall and Buran’s SM docking module was opened and Volk and Tolboyev shared a traditional welcome of bread and salt with Mir EO-18 crewmen Vladimir Dezhurov and Gennady Strekalov. The day after the docking, 17th March 1995, saw Magomed Tolboyev take control of Buran’s starboard SBM robot arm and grab the Fosvich-2 X-ray telescope attached to Kristall’s lateral APAS port. The small module had been sealed up ready for removal the previous week, and Tolboyev had no difficulty in detaching it from the station. The task of manoeuvring the telescope to it’s berth in the aft of Buran’s payload bay was complicated by the presence of the 37KT “Oblako” (“Cloud”) cargo module, but Tolboyev was able to successfully deposit Fosvich in the correct place for its latches to secure it to the shuttle, ready for the journey back to Earth. The 18th saw Tolboyev once again at the RM-5 control console, this time to lift Oblako out of the cargo hold and move it to Kristall’s now-vacant lateral port. This operation also went smoothly, and as a result the go-ahead was given the next day, the 19th, for Volk and Strekalov to perform an EVA to make exterior connections between Oblako and Kristall, as well as confirm that Fosvich was indeed secured to the payload bay structure. The two cosmonauts donned Orlan DMA suits and exited using Buran’s SM hatch. Over the next five hours they completed all assigned tasks, including a test in which Volk attached himself to a special restraint on Buran’s port SBM arm, which Tolboyev then used to move him into position close to the Oblako module. Return to Earth 19th March marked the final day of Buran’s operations at Mir, with Volk and Tolboyev departing aboard the shuttle at 11:40 Moscow time, five days after launch from Baikonur. Immediately after undocking, the crew started preparations for their return to Earth. The GSP Gyro Stabilisation Platforms were re-aligned with the ZSP star trackers and radio altimeter, after which the ONI antennas were retracted, the payload bay doors closed. Buran was then reoriented to fly tail-first, after which the DOM engines were fired at 14:21 Moscow Time over the Caribbean Sea to de-orbit the shuttle. Buran dropped below 100 km altitude approximately 35 minutes later, at which point the Auxiliary Power Units (VSUs) activated, feeding hydraulic power to the aerodynamic controls. All of this took place without intervention from Volk or Tolboyev. The two skilled pilots remained for now passengers as Buran’s computer systems ran through the now familiar sequence of automated re-entry actions. They were intended to remain passive until touchdown, only taking control in the event of some failure of the automatic pilot - a situation very different from that of American shuttle pilots, who always flew their craft to a manual touchdown. Buran entered communications blackout at around 80 km altitude, with contact restored between the cosmonauts and the ground at just under 50 km, at which point the RDS radio rangefinders locked onto the beacons at Baikonur and Buran began manoeuvring to line up with the runway. For this mission, re-entry had been triggered with the shuttle’s orbital track passing almost 550 km southwest of Baikonur, so Buran would have to make up this distance purely through its aerodynamic controls, without the jet engines that had originally been part of the shuttle’s design. However, this was well within the spacecraft’s 1050 km cross-range capability, and Volk and Tolboyev were relieved to see Buran make the necessary turns precisely to program. As the shuttle dropped from hypersonic to supersonic speeds around 15 km from the runway - with ejection once again becoming an option for the cosmonauts should anything go wrong - Buran turned to take the southerly Heading Alignment Cylinder before exiting lined up on the Yubileynyy runway. At this point the crew decided to deviate from the mission plan, switching from automatic to manual mode for the final descent. This option had been discussed and rehearsed in simulators before the mission, but the controllers at TsUP had preferred to use the tried-and-trusted automatic pilot for the first manned mission rather than risk pilot error ending the mission in disaster. Needless to say, the Flight Research Institute pilots disagreed with this cautious approach, and Volk and Tolboyev had agreed between themselves the previous evening that, should the situation seem stable, Volk would pilot the shuttle himself for the final dozen kilometres. Under Volk’s expert direction, Buran swooped into the steep 20 degree glidepath before levelling out to 2 degrees. The landing gear was deployed and, with a final flare, Volk put the giant glider gently onto the tarmac. As soon as all three main gear were in contact with the ground, he triggered the braking parachutes and activated the wheel and air brakes (the latter of which had not been used for unmanned landings), bringing Buran to a rest at 15:17 Moscow time. Volk and Tolboyev were privately reprimanded for their deviation from the mission plan in taking manual control, shortly before being awarded Hero of the Soviet Union medals for successfully completing the USSR’s first fully crewed shuttle mission. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++  The 37KT is a TTL innovation, but not much of a stretch. It’s basically a Soviet equivalent of the Italian-built logistics modules that the shuttle used to ferry supplies to the ISS (one of which, Leonardo, now permanently attached to the station as a store room). 37KT is smaller, the same size as Mir’s Kvant-1 module, with which it shares a design.  Kostyantyn Morozov was a professional soldier who by 1990 had risen to command an air army in Kiev. IOTL he went on to become the first Defence Minister of independent Ukraine. ITTL he spent a little longer in the armed forces before being appointed the Soviet Defence Minister around 1993, part of a political effort to get more non-Russians (and particularly Ukrainians) into the central government as a counter to pushes for independence.