Russia has started a space plane project, says Soviet shuttle designer

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia is developing a reusable space plane, a subsidiary of the Kalashnikov conglomerate said on Wednesday, in the first Russian project of its kind since the Soviet Union’s ill-fated space shuttle Buran.

A full-size model of the plane was unveiled in a closed pavilion during a Russian military forum last year and the project is now under development, said the director general of Molniya’s research-to-production facility.

“The target has already been set and the development of a civil multipurpose complex with an orbital plane is in full swing,” Olga Sokolova was quoted as saying in comments posted on Molniya’s website.

The Molniya facility designed the Buran space shuttle in the 1980s in response to the launch of the US space shuttle program.

But the Buran flew only once. Although it made a successful return trip from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in 1988, the program went no further as authorities struggled to find a use for the shuttle before the Soviet Union was dismantled and funding ran out.

The end of the Soviet era was followed by years of accidents and setbacks for the national space program, including the 2002 collapse of the roof of the hangar at the cosmodrome where the Buran was stored.

The head of the Russian space corporation Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, said in May last year that Moscow was considering developing a piloted space plane, adding that the Buran was ahead of its time.

(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; written by Tom Balmforth; edited by David Goodman)

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