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Buran Atop Mriya

Buran Atop Mriya
Buran atop its An-225 Mriya carrier, as displayed at the Paris Air show shortly after its spaceflight.
Credit: © Mark Wade

Russian air-launched winged orbital launch vehicle. The MAKS spaceplane was the ultimate development of the air-launched spaceplane studies conducted by NPO Molniya.

Status: Cancelled 1988. Payload: 6,600 kg (14,500 lb). Thrust: 3,900.00 kN (876,700 lbf). Gross mass: 275,000 kg (606,000 lb). Height: 39.00 m (127.00 ft). Diameter: 6.38 m (20.93 ft). Apogee: 400 km (240 mi).

The draft project for MAKS was completed in 1988 and consisted of 220 volumes, generated by NPO Molniya and 70 sub-contractors and government institutes. Development of MAKS was authorized but cancelled in 1991. At the time of the cancellation, mock-ups of both the MAKS orbiter and the external tank had been finished. A 9,000 kgf experimental engine with 19 injectors was tested. There were 50 test burns proving the separate modes and a smooth switch between them. Since it was expected that MAKS could reduce the cost of transport to earth orbit by a factor of ten, it was hoped in the 1990's that development funding could be found. However this did not materialize. MAKS was to have flown by 1998.

In 1976-1981 it was realized that launch of Spiral from a large transport was feasible and of much lower development cost than the previous approach using a supersonic launcher. Further it was realized that a smaller orbital spaceplane would have many advantages compared to the Buran space shuttle then in development. These included quicker turnaround, more launch flexibility, and a wider range of achievable orbits. The MAKS approach would allow launch of payloads into orbit; working on satellites in orbit; and return of payloads to earth.

The MAKS design was superior to the earlier System 49 and Bizan designs in several ways. The single-stage-to-orbit allowed the propellant tank to be dropped safely into the antipodal ocean after launch, whereas the '49' with separate rocket stages was constrained to launch points where a first stage impact point 2000 km away was available. MAKS was more reusable than Bizan since all of the engines would be recovered; only the propellant tank was expendable. Finally., the availability of the An-225 transport meant that a larger spacecraft could be designed.

The MAKS draft project used 3 x NK-45 Kuznetsov Lox/LH2 engines with 90 metric tons thrust each. This design had 250 metric ton flight mass and a 7 metric ton net payload. Switch during development to the RD-701 tripropellant engine improved the design. The higher-density propellants allowed a smaller, lighter tank with an increase of the net payload to 8.4 metric tons.

Studies indicated that the optimum launch angle for MAKS was 45 degrees. But to attain this with the An-225 transport a rocket engine would have to be installed in the launch aircraft, which was undesirable from a development standpoint and would also cut into the gross mass of the MAKS vehicle. Finally a tank geometry, and engine/orbiter arrangement was found that allowed the proper release conditions without requiring a supplemental rocket engine in the transport.

The mix and arrangement of propellant tanks changed during development. At first the oxidizer cell was placed at the front of the drop tank. This was aerodynamically stable but resulted in excessive static loads. Other locations posed insurmountable problems with the vehicle's aerodynamic moment and separation from the carrier aircraft. Putting the entire vehicle under the launch aircraft was considered, but this would require redesign of the An-225. There were finally two choices: either an unstable design, with the wings of the MAKS orbiter pitching the vehicle up 45 degrees immediately at release; or three cylindrical tanks arranged under the orbiter in a 'Siamese' arrangement. This last solution was favored by TsAGI Central Hydrodynamics Institute, but the design bureau felt the weight penalty was too great.

The final layout had a complex form, with the thrust vector running below the axis of the drop tank. This 'tug' arrangement basically turned the drop tank into a barge with the orbiter pushing it into orbit. This solution had the lowest mass, was the best for a variety of abort situations, produced the best separation of the orbiter from the tank, and allowed a clear field for use of the crew ejection seats in an emergency.

The MAKS expendable-tank solution also produced a higher payload fraction to orbit than competing integrated vehicle approaches (such as I-HOTOL / MAKS-M or VKS-O). This provided a better margin in case of vehicle weight growth. The drop-tank / lightweight orbiter approach also reduced the amount of orbital maneuvering propellant required, which allowed heavier payloads to be placed into high altitude orbits than pure single-stage-to-orbit designs.

The MAKS air-launched manned space system weighed 620 metric tons on takeoff and consisted of three elements:

LEO Payload: 6,600 kg (14,500 lb) to a 400 km orbit at 90.00 degrees. Payload: 9,500 kg (20,900 lb) to a 200 km 51 deg orbit in unmanned configuration. Flyaway Unit Cost 1985$: 113.000 million.

Stage Data - MAKS


Bizan-T Russian air-launched orbital launch vehicle. Air launched from catamaran heavy-life aircraft, predecessor of later Gerakl / Molniya-1000 design. 900 metric tons takeoff mass. Release conditions: Suspended load, Mach 0.7 at 8 to 9 km altitude. Effective velocity gain compared to vertical launch 270 m/s.

Bizan Russian air-launched orbital launch vehicle. Bizan was the 1982 Soviet air-launched spaceplane design iteration between the '49' and 'MAKS' concepts. Like the '49', it was air-launched from atop an An-124 transport. Unlike the '49', it was a single-stage-to-orbit tripropellant concept.

MAKS-M Russian winged orbital launch vehicle. Fully reusable unpiloted version of MAKS, similar to Interim HOTOL. Air launched from An-225. MAKS was found to have superior payload, lower non-recurring cost and technical risk. MAKS-M would require new materials. Release conditions: Piggy-back, 275,000 kg, 38.0 m length x 24.0 m wingspan, 900 kph at 9,500 m altitude. Effective velocity gain compared to vertical launch 270 m/s. Payload bay 7.0 m long x 4.6 m diameter.

MAKS-T Russian winged orbital launch vehicle. All cargo version of MAKS. Air-launched heavy-lift launcher would use an expendable second stage with a payload container. Release conditions: Piggy-back, 275,000 kg, 38.0 m length x 24.0 m wingspan, 900 kph at 9,500 m altitude. Effective velocity gain compared to vertical launch 270 m/s. Payload bay 13.0 m long x 5.0 m diameter.

MAKS-D Russian winged orbital launch vehicle. NPO Molniya, Antonov, and TsAGI proposed a spaceplane demonstrator project to the European Space Agency in 1993-1994 under the RADEM project. This would be a scaled-back version of the cancelled MAKS spaceplane using existing rocket engines. An unmanned prototype of the MAKS would be fitted out with RD-120 LOx/Kerosene engines. Launched from atop the An-225, the MAKS-D would reach an altitude of 80 to 90 km and a speed of Mach 14 to 15.

Family: aircraft-launched, orbital launch vehicle, Winged. Country: Russia. Engines: D-18T, None, RD-701. Spacecraft: Buran, MAKS series. Stages: MAKS Tank, MAKS Orbiter, An-225. Agency: Molniya bureau. Bibliography: 302, 458, 89.

1982 During the Year - . LV Family: MAKS. Launch Vehicle: Bizan.
1985 - During the year - . Launch Vehicle: MAKS.
1989 May - . Launch Vehicle: MAKS.
1989 May 13 - . Launch Vehicle: MAKS.
1989 June 4 - . Launch Vehicle: MAKS.
1993 - . LV Family: MAKS. Launch Vehicle: MAKS-D.

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