Russia and Kazakhstan squabble over Buran shuttle prototypes

Panikovskij / Wikipedia

The head of Baikonur cosmodrome, Dauren Musa, has responded harshly to Russia’s efforts to relocate and restore certain prized relics of the failed Soviet space shuttle program.

“They want to take it, but who is going to give it to them?” Musa wrote in a social media post on September 8, 2021, referring to prototypes of the Buran space shuttle

“The year of the 60th anniversary of Gagarin’s flight to space is coming to an end, and the Russian [space] industry, which has been given colossal amounts of people’s money, can’t boast of any achievements,” Musa says.

“All they can do is display the models they abandoned in a hurry 30 years ago,” he adds.

Hangars at the Baikonur cosmodrome house one incomplete prototype of the Buran orbiter (Izdelye 1.02) and one mockup designed for ground tests (Izdelye 0.04). In May 2021 numerous photos surfaced, revealing that vandals broke into the hangar and covered the 1.02 in graffiti and various inscriptions mocking the Russian space program.

In early September NPO Molniya, the descendant of the Soviet design bureau of the same name that worked on the Buran program, published a press release claiming that it had sent a delegation to Baikonur in order to discuss the transfer of Buran prototypes to Russia. According to the release, the spacecraft were going to be restored and placed in various Russian museums. The press release has since been removed from Molniya’s website.

This was the second attempt to remove the prototypes from Baikonur. In February 2021, the Special Economic Court of Almaty rejected a claim by the Kazakhstan government that the spacecraft should be considered as government property and displayed in a museum.  

Following the court’s decision, Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia’s space agency Roskosmos, said his agency attempted to purchase the Buran, but was unable to do so as the true owner of the spacecraft was unclear.

Rogozin also responded to Muza’s latest rebuttal, accusing him of not taking proper care of the prototypes.

“You should stop writing this filth about the Russian space industry, which you know nothing about, and evaluate the risk that your, in my opinion, irresponsible behavior puts these unique machines in,” Rogozin said in a comment under Musa’s post.

In 2002, a roof collapse at one of the Baikonur hangars destroyed the Izdelye 1.01, the only Buran orbiter that ever flew to space in an unmanned test conducted in 1988.

In total, five Buran airframes were fully or partially constructed by Molniya during the program, as well as over ten sub-scale models, pre-production prototypes and models. Most of them were scrapped, destroyed or sold following the collapse of the Soviet Union.


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