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Strizh: Spacesuit for Buran pilots
If the Soviet Buran space plane ever flew with the crew onboard, the ship's pilots would wear Strizh (swift bird) rescue suits. Strizh suits were designed to protect crew members from possible depressurization of the cabin at any moment in the mission. Moreover during Buran's initial test flights, pilots could bail out in an emergency from the ascending vehicle even as it was rocketing toward the stratosphere three times faster than a speed of sound, or during the descent to Earth at the end of the mission.
Previous chapter: Buran spacecraft
Above: An assortment of Strizh suits and support hardware, left to right: Strizh-ESO; a test article used during Progress launches; a Strizh suit with a K-36RB ejection seat; the BRS-1 life support system; Strizh-HAV suit.
The development of the Energia-Buran reusable system, which started in 1976, posed familiar challenges for spacesuit designers at NPP Zvezda in Tomilino, who started working on the flight gear for Buran pilots in 1981. For the first time, since the Vostok spacecraft had been retired from service in 1963, the Soviet cosmonauts would need the capability to eject from their spacecraft.
During early test launches of the winged orbiter, Buran's pilots would sit in rocket-propelled K-36RB ejection seats, ready to bail out in the event of a catastrophic failure onboard. According to NPP Zvezda's official specifications in 2013, the altitude ceiling for ejection from Buran would reach 40 kilometers. Earlier Soviet sources put the maximum altitude for survivable ejection at 25 kilometers during Buran's vertical launch and at 30 kilometers during the orbiter's horizontal descent. During both phases of the flight, the vehicle would have to be flying no faster than Mach 3, or three times the speed of sound, for safe bailout. In case of emergency at launch or even before liftoff, ejection seats could still save pilots by launching them 300 meters into the air and away from the spacecraft, followed by a parachute landing around 600 meters from the launch pad. During the Buran's glide back to Earth, bailout from the orbiter approaching the landing site or even rolling on the runway would also be possible. (208)
In addition to the regular Strizh suit, which would be used in operational missions not anticipating the crew ejection, a special version designated Strizh-ESO was under development.
To protect the pilot from the enormous heat generated during a supersonic free-fall from the stratosphere, the dual-layer standard suit was to be covered with an outer layer made out of leather.
The suit also had an inflatable collar and a harness system for holding the pilot in the ejection seat and a parachute system. Due to a need to eject, the hoses supplying air from an external life support system had a special quick disconnect interface.
Standard Strizh suit
The standard Strizh would protect pilots in case Buran's cabin was breached in orbit, giving the crew from 12 to 24 hours to return their space plane back to Earth. The Strizh featured a dual-layer design of enclosure (restraint layer and a bladder) with a built-in helmet. The internal layer (the bladder) made of rubberized nylon fabric (Kapron) served as an air-tight layer and the external layer (the restraint layer), was made of heat-resistant fabric (Kevlar and Rayon) to withstand pressure loads. Two zippers in the front of the suit allowed to put it on and off. The helmet featured dual-layer visor made of polycarbonate material designed to withstand heat during an ejection at a speed of Mach 3.
During a nominal flight, the Strizh suits would be ventilated through the main life-support system of the Buran orbiter. However should the cabin experience depressurization, the Strizh would immediately switch to the air supply from a portable life-support unit known as BRS-1 from Bortovaya Regeneratsionnaya Sistema, or Onboard Regeneration System. The box-shaped unit was located on the floor of the cabin between the two seats and supplied both pilots simultaneously. (271)
Flight test program
To certify the pilots' safety gear for future Buran missions, an experimental version of the Strizh suit was fitted into unmanned Soyuz rockets carrying Progress cargo ships into orbit and then ejected in mid-flight.
During the first and only launch of the Buran orbiter on Nov. 15, 1988, two dummies dressed in Strizh suits were reportedly "sitting" in pilot seats attached to the autonomous life support system. A total of four flight models of the Strizh had been manufactured and 27 test and training models had been built in the course of the program before its termination in 1991. At the turn of the 21st century, a demo room at NPP Zvezda displayed four versions of the Strizh suit, including one, which had actually been ejected in the stratosphere from a Soyuz rocket.
The development of Buran's spacesuit and its ejection seat flight gear was led by P. P. Sobolev, the head of design department at NPP Zvezda and by A. Yu. Stoklitsky, the leading engineer and chief specialist at the company. (208)
Next chapter: Buran's full-scale prototype
Strizh spacesuit at a glance:
Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: May 6, 2016
Technical editor: Nikolay Moiseev; Last edit: December 1, 2013
Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last update: November 17, 2013
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Strizh spacesuit and the BRS-1 life-support system. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2013 Anatoly Zak
A Strizh-ESO spacesuit. Copyright © 2013 Anatoly Zak
The K-36RB ejection seat (also known as OK-K-36) for the Buran orbiter with a Strizh suit. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak
The ejection seat for the Buran orbiter. Copyright © 2003 Anatoly Zak
Test version of the Strizh spacesuit at the landing site after ejection from a Soyuz rocket.