Author Topic: Energia/Buran--superior design to STS/Shuttle?  (Read 9757 times)

Online Hyperion5

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There I was, surfing around for information on Energia launcher and Buran shuttle, when I spotted an interesting claim on http://www.buran-energia.com/

Quote
"Certainly the 'Buran-Energiya' system is the more effective space complex. But it is necessary to remember that "Buran" was created after 'Space-Shuttle' with a break of more than 5 years. It has allowed on one hand to apply more modern methods of designing, materials, manufacturing technologies, test methods etc. and to another - has enabled our designers to take into account all foreign miscalculations and mistakes.

The on-board system was also created as an improved in comparison with the existing American shuttle. "
--Molniya Company

It's true that the Energia rocket was only launched twice, and the Buran shuttle only launched once with it.  This however has more to USSR's economic collapse than the merits of the design.  But I've always wondered, had the USSR not economically collapsed, would the Energia launcher and Buran shuttle have proved the superior, safer designs?  The Shuttle and STS after all has killed some 14 astronauts in two separate disasters due to design flaws the Energia/Buran system did not have.  To the best of my knowledge, the Energia launcher lacked the falling foam problem that came with the shuttle's external tank, which later would doom Columbia.  The Energia launcher also was an all-liquid engine design, so it lacked the o-ring issues on the SRBs that in 1986 would claim the shuttle Challenger shortly after lift-off. 

Yet the alleged superiority of the Energia/Buran does not end there. 

1) Energia could be launched without the Soviet space shuttle.
2) Soviet Space Shuttle could haul 5 mt more into LEO (thanks to not carrying the heavy main engines). 
3) The Buran could supposedly be more easily refurbished for flight thanks to not carrying large engines. 
4) The Buran demonstrated it could be flown unmanned, which was never demonstrated by the Shuttle. 
5) The Buran had an automatic docking system, the Shuttle did not. 
6) The Energia was modular and had far more lift capability (88 mt) compared to an equivalent STS cargo variant (70 mt). 
7) With additional boosters and an upper stage, the "Vulkan Herkules" version of the Energia could have lifted 200 mt into LEO, which dwarfs the capability of even the Saturn V. 

On and on the list of alleged advantages go...

But I've always wondered whether Valentin Glushko's setup was really safer than STS, having seen the numerous explosive first-stage failures of Zenits over the years. What I think is incontrovertible is that the Energia/Buran system was certainly more capable and flexible, and would have been able to much more easily transition to BEO manned spaceflight compared to the STS.  But at the end of the day, was the Energia/Buran setup ultimately superior and safer than the Shuttle/STS?  What do you think of Molniya's claims of the Energia/Buran setup being the superior design, is it chest-thumping or backed by the facts? 



« Last Edit: 03/15/2013 02:56 PM by Hyperion5 »

Online Hyperion5

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Re: Energia/Buran--superior design to STS/Shuttle?
« Reply #1 on: 03/15/2013 03:29 PM »
Energia/Buran could haul more payload, and had a built-in non-orbiter cargo capability that NASA was never able to develop.  That's the "superior" part.

But I'm comfortable saying, based on the history of RD-171 and Zenit for starters, that Energia would not have been safer than Shuttle. 

As for the ice/foam thing, wouldn't Energia have presented the same hazard to Buran TPS?  Maybe even more since the boosters would also have shed ice.

 - Ed Kyle

I suspect that ice falling off the boosters would not have been that big of an issue.  After all, we never lost an orbiter to ice, but we did lose one to foam coming off the external tank.  I was under the impression that the Energia's core did not feature foam that could fall off like on the Shuttle's ET.  Perhaps this would be one alleged superiority of the launch system Molniya is talking about.  It certainly appears that's the case when you look at what launch footage is available.  The only thing I see coming off the launcher seems to be ice, which surely would be less dangerous than foam. 




Offline Jim

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Re: Energia/Buran--superior design to STS/Shuttle?
« Reply #2 on: 03/15/2013 03:37 PM »
I suspect that ice falling off the boosters would not have been that big of an issue.  After all, we never lost an orbiter to ice, but we did lose one to foam coming off the external tank.  I was under the impression that the Energia's core did not feature foam that could fall off like on the Shuttle's ET.  Perhaps this would be one alleged superiority of the launch system Molniya is talking about.  It certainly appears that's the case when you look at what launch footage is available.  The only thing I see coming off the launcher seems to be ice, which surely would be less dangerous than foam. 


HUH?  Ice is much more dangerous than foam.  That is why the foam existed in the first place was to prevent ice.  Look at LO2 tanks on launch vehicles, they don't have foam because they are not worried about ice.

Offline Lobo

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Re: Energia/Buran--superior design to STS/Shuttle?
« Reply #3 on: 03/15/2013 04:14 PM »

It's true that the Energia rocket was only launched twice, and the Buran shuttle only launched once with it.  This however has more to USSR's economic collapse than the merits of the design.  But I've always wondered, had the USSR not economically collapsed, would the Energia launcher and Buran shuttle have proved the superior, safer designs?  The Shuttle and STS after all has killed some 14 astronauts in two separate disasters due to design flaws the Energia/Buran system did not have.  To the best of my knowledge, the Energia launcher lacked the falling foam problem that came with the shuttle's external tank, which later would doom Columbia.  The Energia launcher also was an all-liquid engine design, so it lacked the o-ring issues on the SRBs that in 1986 would claim the shuttle Challenger shortly after lift-off. 

Yet the alleged superiority of the Energia/Buran does not end there. 

1) Energia could be launched without the Soviet space shuttle.
2) Soviet Space Shuttle could haul 5 mt more into LEO (thanks to not carrying the heavy main engines). 
3) The Buran could supposedly be more easily refurbished for flight thanks to not carrying large engines. 
4) The Buran demonstrated it could be flown unmanned, which was never demonstrated by the Shuttle. 
5) The Buran had an automatic docking system, the Shuttle did not. 
6) The Energia was modular and had far more lift capability (88 mt) compared to an equivalent STS cargo variant (70 mt). 
7) With additional boosters and an upper stage, the "Vulkan Herkules" version of the Energia could have lifted 200 mt into LEO, which dwarfs the capability of even the Saturn V. 

On and on the list of alleged advantages go...

But I've always wondered whether Valentin Glushko's setup was really safer than STS, having seen the numerous explosive first-stage failures of Zenits over the years. What I think is incontrovertible is that the Energia/Buran system was certainly more capable and flexible, and would have been able to much more easily transition to BEO manned spaceflight compared to the STS.  But at the end of the day, was the Energia/Buran setup ultimately superior and safer than the Shuttle/STS?  What do you think of Molniya's claims of the Energia/Buran setup being the superior design, is it chest-thumping or backed by the facts? 


Well, ďsuperiorĒ I think is too strong.  The Soviets basically copied all of NASAís hard work developing the shuttle for it.  They made some better choices I think, as they didnít have the political climate NASA had.  Their directive was, ďGive use parity to the American Capitalist pigs as soon as you canÖlearn what you can from the work theyíve already doneÖthis is the money and assets you have to work withĒ.  Where NASAís was, ďGives us a brand new Reusable Space plane never seen by the world before, that is a fully reusable system, or as close to it as possible.  Spread the work all round the country so that Congress is happy with it.  It must have a 60ft X 22ft payload bay.Ē

I donít know that the Soviets had stolen the actual plans for the shuttle, but there was enough public knowledge about itís metrics that it gave the Soviets a pretty good place to start rather than having to start from scratch like NASA did. 

They didnít have access to make large solids like we did, so they went with what they had available.  But that was a good move in itís own right, and NASA would have been much better off using existing assets rather than developing brand new reusable boosters.  But NASA didnít have any reusable boosters assets, and the focus of the program was on reusability, and it was thought that reusable liquid boosters would take too long.  Thus the 4-seg SRBís. 
The Soviets didnít care about reusing the boosters or main engines, so that influenced their changes and the assets they had available. 

The auto docking and auto landing capability might have just been a product of it being a later design than the Shuttle.  I donít know.
The reason the SSMEís were on the orbiter was for reusability, but then that made it impossible for the stack to launch without the orbiter.  So thatís hard to really say if Buran was superior.  If the SSMEís had turned out to be very cheap and easy to refurbish, then we might have looked at the expendable RD-0120ís as wasteful and inefficient.  Same with the booster.  The fact that the SSMEís ended up costing not more to save and refurbish than making new, as was with the SRBís, was a hindsight perspective.  You might say it ended up being better to do it the way Buran did by ďaccidentĒ.  Reusability wasnít the cost saver we hoped, and expendability wasnít the liability we thought it would.  I think if either NASA or the Soviets had evaluated the Buran and Shuttle designs before either of them had been built, the consensus might have been that the Shuttle was better due to itís more reusable elements, and Energyia/Buran would be more expensive and inefficient.

Buran/Energyia I believe didnít have those reusable elements because they really couldnít, or couldnít in the time and money limits they were given to give the Soviet Union space parity with the US.   Energyia and Buran were more simple designs by using hydrolox and existing booster engines that didnít have any reusability criteria, and a MPS that was inline to the core, rather than placed in the orbiter.  And those turned out to be better in the long run, more by accident than design.

I donít know about the foam shedding issues.  How did the Soviets address it?  Their core was still hydrolox, so it would have still had to be insulated.  Did they insulate it internally or something?  I assumed the still had them, but it just flew enough to be an issue.

However, despite all of that, I believe Buran/Energyia was very expensive like the Shuttle, not cheap because it was a reusable spacecraft, even if it was more simple and flexible.  I think the one dirty little secret that the Sovietís didnít know from STS, was the huge costs of STS.  We could afford those costs, but the Soviets broke their bank trying to get there.  They stole the design, but didnít steal the cost information.  And you could say, thatís how we got even.  ;-)

A few other issues with Energyia/Buran.

The Zenit boosters didnít have the O-ring problem, but thatís not to say they wouldnít have had other problems. The Zenit boosters have had their issues over the years.  Out of 80 total launches, 10 failures and 3 parital failures?  A failure on Buran could have resulted in a Challenger type incident, depending on the nature of the failure.  The Shuttle SRBís turned out to have a pretty reliable flight rate comparatively.  1 failure in 271 launches I think.   Even on Challenger, the failure didnít destroy the booster, it was more bad luck the o-ring leak happened on the tank side rather than the outer side.  If it had happened out the outer side or on the side opposite the shuttle, I think everything would have proceeded nominally to SRB-sep, and Challenger would have had a nominal mission.  It was more ďbad luckĒ that the leak happened on the tank side and burned a hole in the tank than due to the SRB problem itself.  The SRBís were still intact and flying after Challengerís breakup, and flew until they were given the destruct signal.  So that SRB with a hole in the side managed to survive the explosion of the ET in tact.  Thatís actually pretty amazing when you think about it. 
The SRBís drawbacks were more due to the logistics due to their mass, and having fueled SRBís in the VAB, and the chance that one SRB would not ignite on the pad (which I think would be pretty bad since you canít shut it back down like you could an LRB?)

Also, IMHO, the Soviets copied some drawbacks of the shuttle when they didnít have to with their changes.  They could have designed Energyia to be inline, and mounted Buran on the top.   With the main engines on the core, they didnít need to side mount it.  Designing Energyia to be side mount, meant it had to side mount itís non-Buran payloads.  And without the main engines off core like STS, that meant that side mounted stack was VERY offline for itís center of mass.  Which is why it had to gimbal so hard to not tip over at launch.  Designing Energyia to be inline could have eliminated that issue and increased itís payload capacity and made a much more efficient design, that then could have been readily upgraded to ďVulkanĒ.  As it was, Energyia would have been modified/redesigned to launch payloads inline before they could have put more boosters on it.  So they might have needed two different core designs. One side mount for launch Buran (since Buran was designed to be side mounted rather than inline mounted, I donít think it could have been put on top without a major redesign itself), and one for in-line mounting of payloads and with additional booster mounts.
And obviously they copied the very expensive and complicated design of the Orbiter itself, where a smaller reusable space plane coupled with a large expendable heavy lifter would likely have been a much more sustainable system.  Especially with their budgets and assets.  Perhaps a smaller 30-40mt launch system, say a 5m hydrolox core with two RD-0120ís and two outboard Zenit booster would have launched a smaller shuttle, and then individual payloads for space station components or whatever.  Buran or Shuttle could only put 20-25mt to LEO, so a 30-40mt system would better that.  Then launch a mini-Buran to rendezvous with the payload, rather than carrying  it up with it.  Maybe that could have been sustainableÖ But they followed us into the budget issues that followed the large reusable spaceplane/cargo hauler in order to have ďparityĒ with us.

Online Hyperion5

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Re: Energia/Buran--superior design to STS/Shuttle?
« Reply #4 on: 03/15/2013 04:21 PM »
I suspect that ice falling off the boosters would not have been that big of an issue.  After all, we never lost an orbiter to ice, but we did lose one to foam coming off the external tank.  I was under the impression that the Energia's core did not feature foam that could fall off like on the Shuttle's ET.  Perhaps this would be one alleged superiority of the launch system Molniya is talking about.  It certainly appears that's the case when you look at what launch footage is available.  The only thing I see coming off the launcher seems to be ice, which surely would be less dangerous than foam. 


HUH?  Ice is much more dangerous than foam.  That is why the foam existed in the first place was to prevent ice.  Look at LO2 tanks on launch vehicles, they don't have foam because they are not worried about ice.

Alright, so it's much more dangerous, but the point stands that we lost an orbiter to the foam meant to prevent the ice, not the ice.  So yes, in theory Jim, the ice is much more dangerous, but it's not what did in the Columbia.  Can you name me another time when ice on the ET endangered a mission versus foam? 

Btw Jim, about Ed's point on the RD-170 engines' design being problematic, I seem to recall you commenting that it had more to do with manufacturing quality than design. 


There's also the Atlas V, which looks likely to start sending up American astronauts in a few years' time.  Its RD-180 engine, unlike the RD-171, has proven extremely reliable.  It has proven so reliable that ULA floated plans of an Atlas V Phase 2 with the exact same number of engine chambers as the Zenit.  Yet with two RD-180 engines why doesn't ULA even appear to blink at the dangers of "catastrophic failures" you mention?  Why would they even consider an Atlas V Phase 2 Heavy with six of those engines (12 engine chambers and considerably more turbopumps) on three cores?  The answer, I think, is that dual RD-180 engines is a more reliable and safer setup than one RD-171. 


Wrong.  The reason they use RD-180 for advanced designs is because they have a source for engine.

RD-17X problems have nothing to do with the number of chambers.  It has to do with manufacturing quality.

So if the problem was with manufacturing quality, and they went all out on that with the RD-170 engines for the Energia's boosters, which I imagine they did, would that have been enough to give RD-180 like reliability? 
« Last Edit: 03/15/2013 04:23 PM by Hyperion5 »

Offline Lobo

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Re: Energia/Buran--superior design to STS/Shuttle?
« Reply #5 on: 03/15/2013 04:29 PM »
I suspect that ice falling off the boosters would not have been that big of an issue.  After all, we never lost an orbiter to ice, but we did lose one to foam coming off the external tank.  I was under the impression that the Energia's core did not feature foam that could fall off like on the Shuttle's ET.  Perhaps this would be one alleged superiority of the launch system Molniya is talking about.  It certainly appears that's the case when you look at what launch footage is available.  The only thing I see coming off the launcher seems to be ice, which surely would be less dangerous than foam. 


HUH?  Ice is much more dangerous than foam.  That is why the foam existed in the first place was to prevent ice.  Look at LO2 tanks on launch vehicles, they don't have foam because they are not worried about ice.

Yea, Jim beat me to that one.  The foam shedding was not nearly as hard or dense as ice.  Holy cow.  Picture a big piece of that spray on foam out of the can (whcih I heard is similar to what's used on the ET), vs a similar size chunk of ice.  If you've ever watched, "The Deadliest Catch", you've seen what just small chunks of ice can do just falling off a crane overhead.  Imagine that falling off the top of the ET and striking the orbiter??  It could rip huge chunks out of the wing and belly on each launch!
Just look at the old Saturn V launches with all the ice falling off of them.  It doesn't matter for an inline rocket, but they obviously couldn't have that one a side mounted space vehicle.  Which was why the foam was put on the ET specifically, if I understand correctly. 

Conversely, as I understand it, NASA knew of pieces of foam occasionally falling off the ET and striking the Orbiter, but in over 100 flights, it wasn't until STS-107 where it caused enough damage to cause an orbital failure.  So they thought that the light foam didn't have enough mass or force to be a problem.

Falling ice would have cause the Columbia to have had a similar fate way back on STS-1!

Offline Lobo

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Re: Energia/Buran--superior design to STS/Shuttle?
« Reply #6 on: 03/15/2013 04:35 PM »

Btw Jim, about Ed's point on the RD-170 engines' design being problematic, I seem to recall you commenting that it had more to do with manufacturing quality than design. 

...snip...

So if the problem was with manufacturing quality, and they went all out on that with the RD-170 engines for the Energia's boosters, which I imagine they did, would that have been enough to give RD-180 like reliability? 

Regardless, as long as it was the Soviets building the boosters, you'd have those manufacturing quality issues.  Who's to say the failures were the result of specific engine problems?
I don't think it was the NK-33's that caused the failures of the N-1's specifically, but other quality issues of the N-1.


Online Hyperion5

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Re: Energia/Buran--superior design to STS/Shuttle?
« Reply #7 on: 03/15/2013 04:53 PM »

Btw Jim, about Ed's point on the RD-170 engines' design being problematic, I seem to recall you commenting that it had more to do with manufacturing quality than design. 

...snip...

So if the problem was with manufacturing quality, and they went all out on that with the RD-170 engines for the Energia's boosters, which I imagine they did, would that have been enough to give RD-180 like reliability? 

Regardless, as long as it was the Soviets building the boosters, you'd have those manufacturing quality issues.  Who's to say the failures were the result of specific engine problems?
I don't think it was the NK-33's that caused the failures of the N-1's specifically, but other quality issues of the N-1.



Yet many of the same people are building RD-180 engines today, and they've proven very reliable on the Atlas V.  So how can it be that the two cousins, one on an American rocket, and the other on a Ukrainian rocket, have proven to be so different in reliability?  Jim fingers manufacturing quality, and I've heard the Ukrainians got a sweetheart deal on RD-171 engines that cause its manufacturer to lose money on each one.  Could it be that NPO Energomash has been skimping on quality checks on RD-171 engines compared to RD-180 engines? 

Offline Jim

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Re: Energia/Buran--superior design to STS/Shuttle?
« Reply #8 on: 03/15/2013 05:03 PM »

Alright, so it's much more dangerous, but the point stands that we lost an orbiter to the foam meant to prevent the ice, not the ice.  So yes, in theory Jim, the ice is much more dangerous, but it's not what did in the Columbia.  Can you name me another time when ice on the ET endangered a mission versus foam? 


Any ice would endanger the mission.  The vehicle is inspected after tanking for ice.  It would not lift off if there is ice.  The foam did its primary job and prevented ice.  They even had jet engines at VAFB to blow warm air on the ET to prevent ice formation (since VAFB was at a lower average temp)
« Last Edit: 03/15/2013 05:07 PM by Jim »

Offline gospacex

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Re: Energia/Buran--superior design to STS/Shuttle?
« Reply #9 on: 03/15/2013 05:32 PM »
Buran superior to Shuttle? "Superior" in what sense?

If economically, then on that metric almost anything is "superior" to Shuttle.

If as a reusable system, then no. Buran would be losing many more parts every flight that Shuttle, most importantly, 1st stage engines.

Offline Jim

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Re: Energia/Buran--superior design to STS/Shuttle?
« Reply #10 on: 03/15/2013 05:51 PM »
Shuttle was more economical than Titan IV, especially considering it could carry the same amount of cargo plus a crew, which would require a separate Titan flight.

It depends.  Titan payloads did not require crew.  Most Titan payloads were HEO or VAFB.  Even with Centaur G, Shuttle could not do the HEO missions since they were above the 10Klb to GSO.  So it would have required two shuttle missions, one with a Centaur G" and the other with the payload.
« Last Edit: 03/15/2013 05:52 PM by Jim »

Online Hyperion5

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Re: Energia/Buran--superior design to STS/Shuttle?
« Reply #11 on: 03/15/2013 05:56 PM »
Buran superior to Shuttle? "Superior" in what sense?

If economically, then on that metric almost anything is "superior" to Shuttle.

Buran was so economical it was never flown again.

Shuttle was more economical than Titan IV, especially considering it could carry the same amount of cargo plus a crew, which would require a separate Titan flight.

Buran was arguably more economical than the Shuttle, and it wasn't flown again because the USSR dissolved and the post-Soviet Russian economy experienced a nearly unprecedented 44% economic decline over a decade.  It's like if we simultaneously experienced the secession of the South and a re-run of the Great Depression starting in 2001.  Now try to imagine the Shuttle would still be flying in 2005 given that situation.  I don't see it happening. 

---

In terms of economics, the RD-0120 hydrolox engines on the Energia's core were simpler, single-turbopump designs with modestly inferior performance compared to those on the Shuttle.  However, they cost a lot less because it the Soviets weren't pushing to the limits of engine tech with them and they weren't designed with lots of re-use in mind.  It may very well have been cheaper for the Soviets to have produced them in large quantities rather than painstakingly refurbish them after each flight.  Heck, that might have been cheaper for the shuttle as well. 


Well, ďsuperiorĒ I think is too strong.  The Soviets basically copied all of NASAís hard work developing the shuttle for it.  They made some better choices I think, as they didnít have the political climate NASA had.  Their directive was, ďGive use parity to the American Capitalist pigs as soon as you canÖlearn what you can from the work theyíve already doneÖthis is the money and assets you have to work withĒ.  Where NASAís was, ďGives us a brand new Reusable Space plane never seen by the world before, that is a fully reusable system, or as close to it as possible.  Spread the work all round the country so that Congress is happy with it.  It must have a 60ft X 22ft payload bay.Ē

I donít know that the Soviets had stolen the actual plans for the shuttle, but there was enough public knowledge about itís metrics that it gave the Soviets a pretty good place to start rather than having to start from scratch like NASA did. 

They didnít have access to make large solids like we did, so they went with what they had available.  But that was a good move in itís own right, and NASA would have been much better off using existing assets rather than developing brand new reusable boosters.  But NASA didnít have any reusable boosters assets, and the focus of the program was on reusability, and it was thought that reusable liquid boosters would take too long.  Thus the 4-seg SRBís. 
The Soviets didnít care about reusing the boosters or main engines, so that influenced their changes and the assets they had available. 

The auto docking and auto landing capability might have just been a product of it being a later design than the Shuttle.  I donít know.

Didn't the Soyuz have an auto-docking feature way back in the 1970s?  If not, when was that added?  Anyone know? 

I would think an auto-pilot could have been developed and added to the shuttle, given our electronics were much more advanced than the Sovets'.  Regardless, I think the fact that the Buran had an auto-pilot was a major safety advantage over the Shuttle.  If the Soviets had had a problem early in the program, it would not have cost cosmonaut lives.  Also, had they lost an orbiter, they could have brought it back to flight without risking the lives of crew, which the shuttle couldn't do.  As was the case with STS-1 and the first flights after Challenger and Columbia, the launches were all manned.  That's a heck of a lot of risk that the Soviets could simply have avoided.  I understand some look at Zenit failures and say, "of course the Energia/Buran system wasn't safer than STS/Shuttle".  However given the Soviets wouldn't have had to take the same risks with their shuttles, I think this might be a closer-run thing than some estimate. 

The reason the SSMEís were on the orbiter was for reusability, but then that made it impossible for the stack to launch without the orbiter.  So thatís hard to really say if Buran was superior.  If the SSMEís had turned out to be very cheap and easy to refurbish, then we might have looked at the expendable RD-0120ís as wasteful and inefficient.  Same with the booster.  The fact that the SSMEís ended up costing not more to save and refurbish than making new, as was with the SRBís, was a hindsight perspective.  You might say it ended up being better to do it the way Buran did by ďaccidentĒ.  Reusability wasnít the cost saver we hoped, and expendability wasnít the liability we thought it would.  I think if either NASA or the Soviets had evaluated the Buran and Shuttle designs before either of them had been built, the consensus might have been that the Shuttle was better due to itís more reusable elements, and Energyia/Buran would be more expensive and inefficient.

I thought the Soviets had done cost estimates on the shuttle and found it didn't make economic sense.  Thus they figured it had to have a military purpose, which made them doubly determined to have their own. 

Buran/Energyia I believe didnít have those reusable elements because they really couldnít, or couldnít in the time and money limits they were given to give the Soviet Union space parity with the US.   Energyia and Buran were more simple designs by using hydrolox and existing booster engines that didnít have any reusability criteria, and a MPS that was inline to the core, rather than placed in the orbiter.  And those turned out to be better in the long run, more by accident than design.

from http://www.astronautix.com/lvs/energia.htm

Quote
The American shuttle design was studied intensively by Russian rocket scientists, but important aspects of it were rejected based on Soviet engineering analysis and technology:

The Soviet Union at this point had no experience in production of large solid rocket motors, especially segmented solid rocket motors of the type used on the shuttle. Glushko favored a launch vehicle with parallel liquid propellant boosters. These would use a 700 metric ton thrust four-chamber Lox/Kerosene engine already under development.

The high chamber pressure, closed-cycle, reusable 230 metric ton thrust Lox/LH2 main engine being developed for the shuttle was well outside engineering experience in the Soviet Union. No engine using these cryogenic propellants had ever been used in Russian rockets, and the largest such engine under development was the 40 metric ton thrust 11D57. Glushko believed that while a Soviet cryogenic engine of 200 metric tons thrust could be developed in the required time, to develop a reusable engine would be impossible due to limited experience with the propellants.

This conclusion led to other important design decisions. If only expendable engines were to be used, there was no need to house them in the re-entry vehicle for recovery. This meant that the orbiter itself could be moved from the lateral mounting of the space shuttle to an on-axis position at the top of the rocket core. The result was the Vulkan - a classic Soviet launch vehicle design: booster stages arranged around a core vehicle, with the payload mounted on top. The elimination of the lateral loads resulted in a lighter booster, and one that was much more flexible. The vehicle could be customized for a wide range of payloads by the use of from two to eight booster stages around a core equipped with from one to four modular main engines. Either a payload container for heavy payloads (Glushko's LEK lunar base) or the military's required spaceplane could be placed on the nose as the payload.

As far as the manned orbital vehicle itself, three different primary configurations were studied extensively, as well as a range of more radical proposals. The final choice was a straight aerodynamic copy of the US shuttle.

Well there you have it, Lobo.  The engines being mounted on the core was a choice of Glushko's to cut the developmental difficulties.  I can't say I disagree with it either.  Had the USSR not collapsed, I don't doubt they could have produced a truer SSME equivalent, but it seems they didn't think it worth the effort. 


I donít know about the foam shedding issues.  How did the Soviets address it?  Their core was still hydrolox, so it would have still had to be insulated.  Did they insulate it internally or something?  I assumed the still had them, but it just flew enough to be an issue.

I was under the impression the Energia core was insulated internally and thus avoided the need for external foam.  Any Soviet space experts know just how the Energia core was insulated? 

However, despite all of that, I believe Buran/Energyia was very expensive like the Shuttle, not cheap because it was a reusable spacecraft, even if it was more simple and flexible.  I think the one dirty little secret that the Sovietís didnít know from STS, was the huge costs of STS.  We could afford those costs, but the Soviets broke their bank trying to get there.  They stole the design, but didnít steal the cost information.  And you could say, thatís how we got even.  ;-)

Aren't NASA budgets a matter of public record?  I had always heard the Soviets couldn't understand the economic justifications being made for the shuttle based on their own analysis, so they figured it must have a military purpose.  You could say their paranoia was what pushed them into making their own shuttle. 

A few other issues with Energyia/Buran.

The Zenit boosters didnít have the O-ring problem, but thatís not to say they wouldnít have had other problems. The Zenit boosters have had their issues over the years.  Out of 80 total launches, 10 failures and 3 parital failures?  A failure on Buran could have resulted in a Challenger type incident, depending on the nature of the failure.  The Shuttle SRBís turned out to have a pretty reliable flight rate comparatively.  1 failure in 271 launches I think.

Though it only flew twice, you would think a failure rate like that would have done in one of the first two Energia launches.  They did after all have some eight RD-170 engines between them, and not one of them had issues or failed a la the RD-171 on the Zenit. 


Also, IMHO, the Soviets copied some drawbacks of the shuttle when they didnít have to with their changes.  They could have designed Energyia to be inline, and mounted Buran on the top.   
....
Especially with their budgets and assets.  Perhaps a smaller 30-40mt launch system, say a 5m hydrolox core with two RD-0120ís and two outboard Zenit booster would have launched a smaller shuttle, and then individual payloads for space station components or whatever.  Buran or Shuttle could only put 20-25mt to LEO, so a 30-40mt system would better that.  Then launch a mini-Buran to rendezvous with the payload, rather than carrying  it up with it.  Maybe that could have been sustainableÖ But they followed us into the budget issues that followed the large reusable spaceplane/cargo hauler in order to have ďparityĒ with us.


AFAIK, the Buran could launch with 30 mt of payload in the payload bay, not 24 mt like the Shuttle.  I do agree launching an inline shuttle would have been safer, but would it have been easier to integrate?  Given the Soviets liked to do horizontal integration (see any number of Energia pictures with Polyus or Buran), I would bet they found the engineering challenges not worth it.  They could have done vertical integration, but I'd guess based on Spacex going with horizontal integration over vertical integration that this isn't a cheap way to do things. 

--

Just noticed that Astronautix mentioned that the RD-170 engines on the Zenit boosters were supposed to be reusable up to 10 times.  That might partly explain why they were so difficult to engineer. 
« Last Edit: 03/15/2013 07:59 PM by Hyperion5 »

Offline Lobo

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Re: Energia/Buran--superior design to STS/Shuttle?
« Reply #12 on: 03/15/2013 10:35 PM »

In terms of economics, the RD-0120 hydrolox engines on the Energia's core were simpler, single-turbopump designs with modestly inferior performance compared to those on the Shuttle.  However, they cost a lot less because it the Soviets weren't pushing to the limits of engine tech with them and they weren't designed with lots of re-use in mind.  It may very well have been cheaper for the Soviets to have produced them in large quantities rather than painstakingly refurbish them after each flight.  Heck, that might have been cheaper for the shuttle as well. 


Again, this could be chalked up to the ďhindsightĒ argument.  In theory, STS should have cost less and been more efficient than Buran/Energyia, because it had more reusable components.  But it ended up be far more costly to process between missions, and the flight rate wasnít enough to make the SSMEís and SRBís cost effective as reusable components.  In hindsight, the Buran design, all things being equal, would have probably been cheaper per year.  Although Iím not sure about two SRBís vs. four Zenits per launch.  Iím not sure about the cost comparison. 
But a US version of Energyia/Buran probably would have been cheaper, and I think that was talked about on my other thread about a better STS. 

http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=28474.0

With ďhindsightĒ (or proper foresight), A US version of Energyia/Buran would have probably had like 5 J2S engines on the base of the ET, with four Titan III SRBís on the ET rather than the two big 4-seg boosters.  Costs would have been shared, and they wouldnít have been reused.  And the J2S engines could have been mass produced at a clip of 15 to 40 per year. (3-8 launches per year, 8 being the most STS launches in a year ever I think).  The J2S was a cheaper and simplified version of J2 supposedly. 
I donít think we had anything at that time that was similar to Zenit.  In the 70ís, our bigger boosters were Titan III, S-IC, and S-1B.  Maybe four S-1B stages in place of the Zenits?  But the four Titan III boosters would be about the same thrust as the two 4-seg SRBís, and they would have been costs shared.  The ET/Core could have been based on the S-II as well for a 10m ET/Core rather than 8.4m.


Didn't the Soyuz have an auto-docking feature way back in the 1970s?  If not, when was that added?  Anyone know? 

I would think an auto-pilot could have been developed and added to the shuttle, given our electronics were much more advanced than the Sovets'.  Regardless, I think the fact that the Buran had an auto-pilot was a major safety advantage over the Shuttle.  If the Soviets had had a problem early in the program, it would not have cost cosmonaut lives.  Also, had they lost an orbiter, they could have brought it back to flight without risking the lives of crew, which the shuttle couldn't do.  As was the case with STS-1 and the first flights after Challenger and Columbia, the launches were all manned.  That's a heck of a lot of risk that the Soviets could simply have avoided.  I understand some look at Zenit failures and say, "of course the Energia/Buran system wasn't safer than STS/Shuttle".  However given the Soviets wouldn't have had to take the same risks with their shuttles, I think this might be a closer-run thing than some estimate. 


I donít know why STS never had full autopilot or auto dock ability.  I donít know if it just wasnít available in the early 70ís when work started on it, if there were some other reasoning for not putting it in.  I do know that STS-1 was probably one of the most dangerous missions ever undertaken by NASA because the STS stack could not be launch tested beforehand.  Saturn 1B and Saturn V were all launched unmanned first, as were Redstones, Atlasís, and Titans.  That is certainly a point, but I donít know if it was because Buran was ďsuperiorĒ, or if such an advanced autopilot wasnít developed enough in the early and mid 70ís to integrate into the Orbiter, but it was in the 80ís for Buran?  Or if there were some other reason it didnít have it.  And I donít know why it was never added.  Maybe it couldnít be added without redesigning the whole Orbiter?  Then again, youíd have think it would have been available to integrate into Endevour anyway as she wasnít built until the later 80ís to replace Challenger. 


I thought the Soviets had done cost estimates on the shuttle and found it didn't make economic sense.  Thus they figured it had to have a military purpose, which made them doubly determined to have their own. 


I donít know for sure.  I had understood it, that during the 70ís and 80ís, the Soviets were paranoid and wanted to have parity of all western advances, for propaganda reasons of nothing else.  We had this big impressive reusable Shuttle, so they needed one.  We had a supersonic passenger jet (Concorde) , they had to have one in the Tu-144, we had a supersonic bomber in the B-1, and they had to have the Tu-160 Blackjack.  It goes all the way to when they captured some B-29ís and reverse engineered them into the Tu-4.   And so on. 
I think the paranoid Soviets figured anything we did had a military purpose and was meant to wipe them off the map, so they probably felt the same thing about STS.  But I think that was as much because there WAS no demarcation line in the Soviet Union between ďcivilianĒ and ďmilitaryĒ.  They assumed we were lying because they always lied.  If they had a good handle on the costs of STS, they probably think we lied about those to keep them from making their own. 
Then they found out we werenít lyingÖ.  ;-)



from http://www.astronautix.com/lvs/energia.htm

Well there you have it, Lobo.  The engines being mounted on the core was a choice of Glushko's to cut the developmental difficulties.  I can't say I disagree with it either.  Had the USSR not collapsed, I don't doubt they could have produced a truer SSME equivalent, but it seems they didn't think it worth the effort. 


It was also their choice to mount the orbiter on top of the stack rather than on the side.

ďThis conclusion led to other important design decisions. If only expendable engines were to be used, there was no need to house them in the re-entry vehicle for recovery. This meant that the orbiter itself could be moved from the lateral mounting of the space shuttle to an on-axis position at the top of the rocket core. The result was the Vulkan - a classic Soviet launch vehicle design: booster stages arranged around a core vehicle, with the payload mounted on top. The elimination of the lateral loads resulted in a lighter booster, and one that was much more flexible.Ē

ďThe Vulkan was used as a starting point, but modified to meet this requirement. Wind tunnel tests were conducted on a wide range of possible arrangements of rocket stages and orbiter positions. In the end, Buran was moved to the lateral position, as with the US space shuttle. The main engines, for the reasons given earlier, remained in the core vehicle. The liquid boosters were retained, but reduced to four in number. After being re-stressed for the lateral launch loads, the resulting Energia launch vehicle had half the lift-off mass and payload of the Vulkan. This was sufficient to carry the Buran with its required internal payload of 30 metric tons. ď
It never really says WHY they moved it back to the side mount position, just that mounting it on top was the superior position.  Maybe there were some wind tunnel issued that they thought they couldnítí resolve quickly or effectively?

Aren't NASA budgets a matter of public record?  I had always heard the Soviets couldn't understand the economic justifications being made for the shuttle based on their own analysis, so they figured it must have a military purpose.  You could say their paranoia was what pushed them into making their own shuttle. 


Like I said, my guess is if they knew the costs, they probably thought we were lying to keep them from trying to build their own, or something.  They wanted military parity, and they thought the Shuttle would have military applications Iím sure.  Regardless of what we were saying publically that it wouldnít. 


Though it only flew twice, you would think a failure rate like that would have done in one of the first two Energia launches.  They did after all have some eight RD-170 engines between them, and not one of them had issues or failed a la the RD-171 on the Zenit. 


Not necessarily.  Itís not a very large sample size.  Besides, of the failures and partial failures of Zenit, some of those could have been 2nd stage failures, or avionics failures, or something that isnít as applicable to the basic engine and kerolox 1st stage core of the Zenit strap on booster.  I didnít delve into it that deep.  Just saying SRBís did actually have a pretty good history, and the one failure wouldnít have likely even been a failure if it had been on an outer part of the booster o-ring joint.  Anywhere other than where it was.


AFAIK, the Buran could launch with 30 mt of payload in the payload bay, not 24 mt like the Shuttle.  I do agree launching an inline shuttle would have been safer, but would it have been easier to integrate?  Given the Soviets liked to do horizontal integration (see any number of Energia pictures with Polyus or Buran), I would bet they found the engineering challenges not worth it.  They could have done vertical integration, but I'd guess based on Spacex going with horizontal integration over vertical integration that this isn't a cheap way to do things. 


As I mentioned above, they apparently knew that putting the orbiter on top would be a better way to go if they werenít going to have reusable main engines.  And the booster had much less capacity with the side mount configuration.  But I donít know why exactly they chose not too.  Perhaps some stability issues during the wind tunnel testing, or perhaps they didnít have the facilities to integrate something like that horizontally (which all of their facilities were set up to do) and roll it out and erect it on the launch pad, like KSC could have done, all vertically?  Maybe a combination of both.  It might be that the basic shuttle orbiter design, which the Soviets copied almost exactly, would unstable when trying to launch on top of a stack.  But the STS orbiter was designed from the start to be launched side-mount, so itís stability and aerodynamic characteristics on top of a booster stack were likely never a consideration.  The Soviets copied that Orbiter, so maybe it had to be side mounted on their booster because of that?
My whole point about mounting a shuttle on top (axially) is that itís superior, and it would have been better overall, with hindsight and foresight, to have understood that reusing the main engines wouldnít have been any cost advantages over disposing of mass-produced engines, and then designed the orbiter to launch on top of a stack (maybe the Saturn INT-21 stack?  Or an S-II stage with four Titan SRBís.) from the beginning, so it had all of the proper aerodynamic stability criteria for axial mounting designed into it.
If the Soviets had not been just copying our orbiter, maybe they could have designed one that could have launched axially?  Donít know for sure, but obviously they understood thatís the superior way to go if you arenít trying to save the main engines by putting them on the orbiter. 


Offline fregate

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Re: Energia/Buran--superior design to STS/Shuttle?
« Reply #13 on: 03/15/2013 11:57 PM »
AFAIK Energia-Buran had been sponsored by Soviet military as a SYMMETRICAL (orbiter) and SYMMETRICAL (Energia LV) answer to STS, nobody at that time (mid-70th) performed economical feasibility studies.  :D
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Online Hyperion5

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Re: Energia/Buran--superior design to STS/Shuttle?
« Reply #14 on: 03/16/2013 01:22 AM »

Again, this could be chalked up to the ďhindsightĒ argument.  In theory, STS should have cost less and been more efficient than Buran/Energyia, because it had more reusable components.  But it ended up be far more costly to process between missions, and the flight rate wasnít enough to make the SSMEís and SRBís cost effective as reusable components.  In hindsight, the Buran design, all things being equal, would have probably been cheaper per year.  Although Iím not sure about two SRBís vs. four Zenits per launch.  Iím not sure about the cost comparison. 

But a US version of Energyia/Buran probably would have been cheaper, and I think that was talked about on my other thread about a better STS. 

Well good news, I have tracked down something on why the Soviets were puzzled by the US Space Shuttle and concerned about it.  I know this is from wiki, but there is sourcing on some of it and it sounds plausible to me:

Quote
An authoritative biographer of the Russian space program, academic Boris Chertok, recounts how the program came into being.[3] According to Chertok, after the U.S. developed its Space Shuttle program, the Soviet military became suspicious that it could be used for military purposes, due to its enormous payload, several times that of previous U.S. spaceships. The Soviet government asked the TsNIIMash (ЦНИИМАШ, Central Institute of Machine-building, a major player in defense analysis) for an expert opinion. Institute director, Yuri Mozzhorin, recalls that for a long time the institute could not envisage a civilian payload large enough to require a vehicle of that capacity. Based on this, as well as on US profitability analyses of that time, which showed that the Space Shuttle would be economically efficient only with a large number of launches (one every week or so), Mozzhorin concluded that the vehicle had a military purpose, although he was unable to say exactly what. The Soviet program was further boosted after Defense Minister Ustinov received a report from analysts showing that, at least in theory, the Space Shuttle could be used to deploy nuclear bombs over Soviet territory. Chertok recounts that Ustinov was so worried by the possibility that he made the Soviet response program a top priority.

Reading about how the Energia/Buran program started is beginning to sound like it would be rather entertaining.  Would anyone have a book in mind that addresses this very subject? 


http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=28474.0

With ďhindsightĒ (or proper foresight), A US version of Energyia/Buran would have probably had like 5 J2S engines on the base of the ET, with four Titan III SRBís on the ET rather than the two big 4-seg boosters.  Costs would have been shared, and they wouldnít have been reused.  And the J2S engines could have been mass produced at a clip of 15 to 40 per year. (3-8 launches per year, 8 being the most STS launches in a year ever I think).  The J2S was a cheaper and simplified version of J2 supposedly. 

I donít think we had anything at that time that was similar to Zenit.  In the 70ís, our bigger boosters were Titan III, S-IC, and S-1B.  Maybe four S-1B stages in place of the Zenits?  But the four Titan III boosters would be about the same thrust as the two 4-seg SRBís, and they would have been costs shared.  The ET/Core could have been based on the S-II as well for a 10m ET/Core rather than 8.4m.

(See left-most engine for what I'd use on the boosters)
http://www.astronautix.com/graphics/s/satupeng.gif

If we wanted to do an American Energia/Buran equivalent, the boosters are easy to figure out.  We'd work with the USAF to make the next-gen Atlas' SI based around a single F-1A engine and mounted a J-2S up top.  That would've made a good ELV and an excellent booster as well.  Take four of those SI sections, or make a booster with a pair of them, and use those to boost the central core.  If the Shuttle was still going to be as large as it is today, I don't think five J-2S engines would have cut it.  Luckily for us, the Saturn V engineers had planned on possibly upgrading the S-II from five to seven J-2 engines.  Given the J-2 and J-2S are the same diameter, that's an easy upgrade decision to make.  I would think seven J-2S engines on an extended Saturn V S-II ought to handle that situation. 



I donít know why STS never had full autopilot or auto dock ability.  I donít know if it just wasnít available in the early 70ís when work started on it, if there were some other reasoning for not putting it in.  I do know that STS-1 was probably one of the most dangerous missions ever undertaken by NASA because the STS stack could not be launch tested beforehand.  Saturn 1B and Saturn V were all launched unmanned first, as were Redstones, Atlasís, and Titans.  That is certainly a point, but I donít know if it was because Buran was ďsuperiorĒ, or if such an advanced autopilot wasnít developed enough in the early and mid 70ís to integrate into the Orbiter, but it was in the 80ís for Buran?  Or if there were some other reason it didnít have it.  And I donít know why it was never added.  Maybe it couldnít be added without redesigning the whole Orbiter?  Then again, youíd have think it would have been available to integrate into Endevour anyway as she wasnít built until the later 80ís to replace Challenger. 

This would be a good question for Jim: "Why were the shuttles never retro-fitted with autopilots after the Challenger disaster?" If the Soviets could have one on their shuttles, why couldn't the US match that safety feature? 


It was also their choice to mount the orbiter on top of the stack rather than on the side.

----
It never really says WHY they moved it back to the side mount position, just that mounting it on top was the superior position.  Maybe there were some wind tunnel issued that they thought they couldnítí resolve quickly or effectively?

Like I said, my guess is if they knew the costs, they probably thought we were lying to keep them from trying to build their own, or something.  They wanted military parity, and they thought the Shuttle would have military applications Iím sure.  Regardless of what we were saying publically that it wouldnít.


Well as I recall we did use the Shuttle for at least a half dozen or more classified military payloads in the 1980s.  That had to spook the Soviets, given how much they distrusted us.  Heck, they thought we were about to do a nuclear surprise attack on them in 1983 during Operation Able Archer. 

I saw this and just had to post it:

Quote
Commenting on the discontinuation of the program in his interview to New Scientist, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov confirms their accounts:

ď    We had no civilian tasks for Buran and the military ones were no longer needed. It was originally designed as a military system for weapon delivery, maybe even nuclear weapons. The American shuttle also has military uses.[4]



Not necessarily.  Itís not a very large sample size.  Besides, of the failures and partial failures of Zenit, some of those could have been 2nd stage failures, or avionics failures, or something that isnít as applicable to the basic engine and kerolox 1st stage core of the Zenit strap on booster.  I didnít delve into it that deep.  Just saying SRBís did actually have a pretty good history, and the one failure wouldnít have likely even been a failure if it had been on an outer part of the booster o-ring joint.  Anywhere other than where it was.

That reminds me, how did the crew size and launch abort safety systems compare on the two vehicles?  I know the shuttle had its two ejection seats removed to make way for more crew, but what did the Buran have?  I've heard they wanted to one-up the US, thus the max crew size was set to ten.  I'm not sure about that.  That sounds like an incredible number of cosmonauts, though given the size of the LV, it wouldn't be that hard to launch them.  But if disaster were a possibility and the stack was in flight, what options would cosmonauts have on the Buran? 


...
My whole point about mounting a shuttle on top (axially) is that itís superior, and it would have been better overall, with hindsight and foresight, to have understood that reusing the main engines wouldnít have been any cost advantages over disposing of mass-produced engines, and then designed the orbiter to launch on top of a stack (maybe the Saturn INT-21 stack?  Or an S-II stage with four Titan SRBís.) from the beginning, so it had all of the proper aerodynamic stability criteria for axial mounting designed into it.

If the Soviets had not been just copying our orbiter, maybe they could have designed one that could have launched axially?  Donít know for sure, but obviously they understood thatís the superior way to go if you arenít trying to save the main engines by putting them on the orbiter. 


It's interesting that they rejected some elements of the STS stack as mistakes but not how it was side-mounted.  Even their own analysis said it was best up top, so why did their engineers get overridden?  I would guess some politicking was at fault.  It sort of reminds me of the way NASA went about pushing forward with the Constellation Program.  Engineering-wise there were better choices, yet NASA didn't choose those options.  I would bet the same thing was going on in the USSR's space program. 

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