SOURCE: Almanac of Soviet Manned Space Flight by Dennis Newkirk.
Launched : Nov. 15 1988, 6:00 P.M. (Moscow time)
Landed : Nov. 15 1988, 9:44 P.M.
Altitude : 252 x 256 km. @ 51.6
Crew : none
In March 1988, rumors circulated that a US photo-reconnaissance satellite detected an Energia booster being placed on the launch pad and then it was removed. The Soviets acknowledged that they were testing an retesting systems for the shuttle launch. The booster was being tested with launch pad systems to insure there would be fewer problems when the shuttle was taken to the pad. In May 1988, the chairman of Glavkosmos stated that the second Energia launch would carry the Soviet shuttle and that it would be the only Energia launch of the year.
In September, Radio Moscow reported that cosmonauts were undergoing shuttle training in simulators, practicing takeoff, maneuvering and landing, fuelling rumors that a manned flight might be attempted soon. Vladimir Dzhanibekov reported that there were six cosmonauts in training for the two positions on the first manned flight of the shuttle, whenever it would occur. In the last week of September, rumors circulated that US a photo-reconnaissance satellite had detected the shuttle being moved to the launch pad.
On April 29 1988, the Soviets announced that their shuttle would be launched shortly on an Energia booster. Pictures released of the Buran orbiter being prepared for flight, showed a cylindrical module mounted in the cargo bay, similar in size to the Kvant module. There was no explanation for the purpose of the module, but it probably carried instrumentation to measure the launch and reentry conditions inside the cargo bay that future spacecraft would have to withstand.
The launch was originally scheduled for Oct. 29 at 7:30 A.M.. As the countdown proceeded into its final hours, a fault occurred in the ignition system which required the countdown to be delayed for four hours. After recycling the countdown, the count continued to T minus 51 seconds when it was stopped again because the crew access platform did not retract as fast as expected. Even though there was no crew in the orbiter, the crew access and escape arm also provides electrical connections from the ground to the orbiter. Specifically, the orbiters guidance gyroscopes were updated with accurate ground information. The access platform should have retracted in three seconds, but required 38 seconds. The design of the hinge mechanism for the platform was said to be inadequate. Review of problems and corrections would take about two weeks.
On or about Nov. 11, the next launch attempt was set to Nov. 15. The Soviet's announced that live television coverage would be provided of the launch, but as with the previous launch attempt, no live coverage was provided. As launch time approached, launch officials met to consider the worsening weather at Baykonur. The temperature was 4° C and the cloudy weather was predicted to grow worse as a storm moved from the Aral Sea toward Baykonur. The countdown was allowed to continue and workers cleared the pad at 12:00 A.M. Nov. 15, as hydrogen loading of the Energia core stage began. During the final preparations, shuttle cosmonauts flew MiG-25 launch observation aircraft and a Tu- 154 shuttle training aircraft making landings at the shuttle recovery runway to test abort landing conditions. At 4:49 A.M., the shuttle was switched to an internal launch sequencer, and about eight seconds before lift-off, the core stage main engines started followed by the four strap-on boosters. Lift-off occurred on scheduled at 6:00 A.M..
After 2.75 minutes, the strap-on boosters were jettisoned in pairs as their propellant was depleted at 60 km. altitude. The core stage continued firing, carrying the orbiter toward orbit. The core stage shutdown eight minutes after launch and separated from the orbiter at 160 km. altitude. The trajectory of the booster and orbiter were both sub-orbital,descending into the atmosphere over the Pacific. The core stage would continue on that path and make a destructive reentry. Two and a half minutes after separation, the orbiter fired its orbital maneuvering engines for 67 seconds to boost the trajectory to about 250 km. and avoid falling into the atmosphere. Over the Pacific at 6:47 A.M., the orbiter made another maneuver for 42 seconds circularizing the orbit to 252 * 256 km..
The launch was announced over an hour later as the orbiter was on its first orbit. The orbiter was in communication with mission control in Kaliningrad during the entire mission using a combination of tracking ships and satellites. The ships Volkov and Belyayev were stationed in the south Atlantic. The Marshall Nedelin was stationed off the coast of Chile and the Dobrovolski was stationed to the west of the Nedelin's position. The Marshal Nedelin was normally used to support military launches. Two Molniya communications satellites were used to relay information, probably from ships to mission control, and a Gorizont and a Luch satellite were also used. During the flight, mission control received television pictures of the Earth taken from cameras mounted in the shuttle cockpit. The orbiter made its first orbit over the pacific, South America, the South Atlantic, Africa, the USSR and back to the Pacific.
The second time over the South Pacific, the orbiter turned its tail into the direction of flight and performed retrofire at 8:20 A.M.. The orbiter then turned around and coasted toward reentry. The orbiter touched the fringes of the upper atmosphere at 122 km. altitude. For the next 20 minutes, the orbiter was in radio blackout as aerodynamic braking created a plasma shield under the spacecraft. As the orbiter flew through about 40 km. altitude it had completed altering its flight path to the East by about 1000 km. to head toward the Baykonur Cosmodrome. Before the arrival of the shuttle, the Tu-154 trainer was flown on approaches and landings to determine weather conditions at the landing site. The orbiter was also intercepted by two MiG-25 chase planes flown by shuttle test pilots Ural Sultanov and Magomed Tolboev. They relayed television pictures of the orbiter as it made its final approach to the runway. As the orbiter approached the ground, winds of 64 km per hour (40 mph) blowing 30 degrees to the runway made for a cross wind of 55 km per hour (34 mph) which was well above acceptance values for NASA shuttle landings. The orbiter touched down at 9:25 A.M., traveling about 180 knots (207 mph) with the main landing gear was only 1.5 meters from the runway center line.
Three braking parachutes were deployed to help slow the orbiter to a stop after traveling about 1150 meters down the runway. Inspection revealed that only five of the delicate 38,000 heat shield tiles had been fallen off the orbiter during the flight. After the landing, the orbiter was parked outside the orbiter processing facility for initial inspections and propellant removal. The orbiter was scheduled to have some of its major systems disassembled for inspection but this was still not done by the next June when the orbiter was flown to Paris on the new An-225 carrier aircraft for display at the Paris air show.