The copycat Soviet version of the U.S. space shuttle, named the "Buran" (Snowstorm), is now ready for blastoff at the nation's space center in Central Asia, Radio Moscow reported Monday.
"Preparation is nearing completion for its test launch," the state-run radio's international service said. It did not say when blastoff would occur.The Buran and its rocket booster, the 2,000-ton Energia, will take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the Soviet space center on the steppes of Kazakhstan, Radio Moscow said.
Soviet space officials have said the shuttle's first mission, an unmanned test flight, should take place this year, but have not given an exact date.
The "forthcoming flight with the reusable spaceship is a landmark in Soviet space exploration programs," Radio Moscow said. The radio's report was apparently the first in Soviet media to make the shuttle's name public.
The Soviet shuttle, under development since at least 1982, has delta-shaped wings like its American counterpart, and is mated to its booster rocket in much the same way as the American craft.
Soviet officials have acknowledged that technical problems in creating their version of a reusable spacecraft have caused delays. They also point to the Jan. 28, 1986, explosion of the U.S. shuttle Challenger as an example of the hazards they are trying to prevent.
The Energia booster was tested once, on May 15, 1987, when it successfully carried aloft a dummy spacecraft.
The booster is said by the Soviets to be the most powerful in the world. It can reportedly place 100 tons of cargo into orbit and deliver 170 million horsepower of thrust.