Russian Shuttle Orbits And Lands

By Felicity Barringer
The New York Times

MOSCOW, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 1988 -- The Soviet Union's space shuttle was lofted into orbit for the first time today by the world's most powerful booster rocket. The unmanned craft circled Earth twice before returning in a smooth automated landing on the cold, flat Asian steppe, a few miles from where it had been launched.

The successful 3-hour, 25-minute flight of the shuttle, named Buran, gives a new profile to the Soviet space fleet, providing it with a reuseable craft whose structure, from its swept-back wings to its 38,000 heat-resistant ceramic tiles make it a virtual duplicate of the American space shuttles.

Soviet television this morning showed a brief view of the countdown and the firing of the mighty rocket engines, with the rocket's smoke obscuring the actual liftoff. A longer film clip later showed the shuttle's gliding, banking return to the Baikonur launch area, with some of the scenes shot from an accompanying jet fighter.

The liftoff marks the second landmark for the Soviet space program this month. On Saturday, Soviet astronauts Vladimir Titov and Musa Manarov, orbiting the earth on the Mir space station, broke Yuri Romanenko's 1987 space endurance record of 326 days.

'A Comprehensive Test'

''The U.S.S.R. has launched its first reuseable spacecraft Buran,'' Radio Moscow's English-language service announced at 6:03 A.M. (10:03 P.M., Monday, New York time). ''That will be enough for a comprehensive test of all of the space shuttle systems and its capabilities,'' the radio said, adding that the craft could hold up to 10 astronauts.

The shuttle was powered into orbit by 3,500 tons of thrust generated by the heavyweight booster system of the Energiya rocket, whose eight engines are fueled by more than 2,000 tons of supercooled liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen.

The American shuttle, Discovery, completed a four-day flight in September, ending a 32-month hiatus in United States shuttle launchings after the January 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, in which all seven astronauts aboard died.

The unmanned Soviet shuttle made what the Communist Party newspaper Pravda had previously had said would be a complex and difficult instrument-guided landing on a 2.5-mile landing strip. But the shuttle had already made a successful landing at Baikonur with a pilot, Igor Volk, aboard testing the automatic landing controls.

Earlier Attempt Aborted

The first launching of Buran, whose name can be translated ''blizzard'' or ''snowstorm,'' came 17 days after an earlier attempt was aborted just 51 seconds before liftoff. An emergency service platform had failed to detach from the Energiya rocket.

An unusual televised news report Monday evening offered a close-up look at the apparatus that failed. The announcer explained that the platform had actually separated, but several seconds too late.

In the wake of those problems, technicians unloaded the fuel components that power the main rocket and the four booster rockets.

The use of the shuttle is still not clear. Officials of the Soviet space agency Glavkosmos made clear at a news conference last week that they do not intend to use their shuttle as a means of launching satellites.

But, the head of Glavkosmos, Aleksandr I. Dunayev, said at the news conference Nov. 10, that the shuttle is designed to permit docking with the orbiting Mir space station. Many Western experts believe that the shuttle could be used as a heavy-duty hauler of preassembled parts when the Soviet Union decides to build a new generation of space stations.

The Buran and its sister ship, the Ptitchka, each have a cargo capacity of about 30 metric tons, about 13 times the capacity of the cargo vessel now routinely used to ferry instruments, food and other essentials to astronauts aboard the Mir.


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Nov. 14 (AP) - The launching team and astronauts for the space shuttle Atlantis completed a successful countdown test today for the secret military mission to be flown in late November or early December.

The five crew members boarded the shuttle for the final two hours of the two-day simulation and ran through the procedures they will follow on launching day.

Conrad Nagel, the processing director for the Atlantis, termed the exercise ''very successful'' and said the only significant problem involved communications with the Mission Control Center in Houston, which he said would take a day or two to correct.

Copyright 1988 The New York Times Company