Painted Buran Heatshield Tile

Whole Object Name

Painted Buran Heatshield Tile


Space Oddities


The Buran programme began in response to the United States Space Shuttle programme, which intended to develop a reusable space vehicle. Started in 1974, whilst still under the Soviet regime, the Buran programme developed a space craft that struck a remarkable resemblance to the US Space Shuttle. There were in fact many differences between the two vehicles, and despite Buran ultimately being cancelled in 1993, in some respects it performed better than the American version.

The Buran programme was the single most expensive in the history of Soviet space flight. In total five space qualified vehicles were either complete or under construction when the project was cancelled. Only one ever flew in space – also known as ‘Buran’ (‘Snowstorm’), Orbiter K1 successfully completed a fully automated uncrewed flight in 1988. It was later destroyed when the hanger it was stored in collapsed.

The tile is white in colour and made from borosilicate and a fused quartz fibre layer. The design was intended to protect the returning spacecraft from the heat caused during re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere. White tiles came from the upper portion of the vehicle, with black tiles on the underside of the spacecraft, with different types used for the nose and leading edge of the wings – where the temperature would be hottest. In total over 38,000 separate tiles covered the surface of the orbiter, like a giant jigsaw each had a very specific shape and location.

The tile has been painted on with a depiction of a Buran orbital spacecraft on top of the Energia rocket launch vehicle. It once belonged to German pop-artist, ‘Andora’ – so it is likely that the painting was done by him. The word ‘Baikonur’ can just be made out on the tile – this refers to the Baikonur Cosmodrome, where Buran was launched and landed.

Object number

  • image Painted Buran Heatshield Tile
  • image Mock up of Buran - Credit: Anna Zvereva
  • image Painted Buran Heatshield Tile
  • image Mock up of Buran - Credit: Anna Zvereva

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