Spaceship of the Imagination Energia Buran to Venus
Originally uploaded by the lost main line
The Russian Buran space shuttle seems superficially similar to the NASA shuttle but it is really quite different. Buran and the Energia rocket that launches it are quite separate and Buran's engines are not used in the launch. Energia was designed not just to launch the shuttle to Low Earth Orbit, but also to launch heavy payloads to the Moon and beyond so it could easily send Buran to Venus, the closest of all planets to the Earth. The advantages of using a shuttle to enter in Venus’s thick atmosphere are obvious, but Buran wouldn’t survive a landing on Venus’s surface where the temperature is hot enough to melt lead and the pressure is ninety times that of Earth so the shuttle would come to rest high in the atmosphere supported by balloons. Even without the balloons Buran wouldn’t reach the surface but float a few kilometres up in Venus’s thick atmosphere. Getting back to Earth would be impossible without another launcher so before Buran left Earth an empty Energia with a fuel processing unit would be sent to Venus. The Energia would naturally float on Venus and would be supported by a balloon when its tanks were full. Buran would only be launched when the processing was complete. On Venus Buran would rendezvous with Energia and deploy a balloon which would lift the two of them high into the atmosphere ready for launch. While on Venus Buran could release remotely controlled landers to explore the surface and collect geological specimens for return to Earth. The journey from Earth to Venus would take 4 months; Buran would stay 14 months on the Venus, and finally return to Earth two years after its departure. With just two shuttles a mission could be sent at every launch window, enough to maintain a permanent base on Venus with tours of duty of four years, not unlike what was expected of sailors in the great age of sail, or two years if the base was left unmanned between shuttles.