The Soviet Union's new space shuttle, a reusable craft that lands on a runway, will make its maiden voyage at about the same time that the U.S. space shuttle is scheduled to return to orbit for the first time since the Challenger disaster, an industry magazine reports.
Aviation Week and Space Technology released a report Friday saying the Soviet shuttle will be launched in August and "roughly coincide" with the return to flight of the American space shuttle.The Soviet space shuttle, which closely resembles the American original in exterior design, is to carry two cosmonauts into orbit in what is expected to be a short test mission.
Earlier reports said that the Soviet shuttle's initial test flight would be conducted unmanned, but officials disclosed last week that the plans call for two pilots.
Aviation Week quoted Soviet Lt. Gen. Vladium Shatalov, chief of the Soviet space program, as saying, "When the Americans tested their shuttle, two men took off. I believe that this experience is reasonable and can be used in our country."
The Soviet space shuttle is launched on a liquid-fueled rocket called the Energia. Unlike the American craft, the launch rockets are not a part of the orbiting craft. Instead, the Soviet shuttle includes jet engines which can be used when the craft returns to the atmosphere. This will give the Soviet shuttle a greater range to maneuver than the U.S. shuttle, which returns from space as a glider with no engines.
Aviation Week said the Soviet shuttle flight is part of an "unprecedented" series of space missions over the next three months.
"Never before has the USSR attempted so many major new space missions within the same period," the magazine said.
Among the Soviet flights are:
-Two robot craft to be launched to Mars and to the Martian moon Phobos. The craft will lift off on July 7 and July 12 for the most complex planetary missions yet attempted by the Soviets. The craft will include instruments provided by eight countries and the European Space Agency.
-On June 7, a Soyuz spacecraft with a Soviet and a Bulgarian cosmonaut will be launched to the space station Mir for an eight-day mission. In August, a second Soyuz will be launched with a Soviet and an Afghan on board.
-Last Sunday, the Soviets launched a military intelligence craft the size of a school bus in a 530-mile circular orbit.
Two cosmonauts aboard the space station Mir completed their 150th day in orbit last Monday. The Soviet Union has now exceeded 128,000 man-hours in space, more than triple the U.S. total of 42,463 hours.