Rho Models Energia-Buran

Completed model Manufacturer: Rho Models
Scale: 1:144
Material: resin, PVC, wire, metal, decals
Price: $60.00 US (Energia), $30 US (Buran)

When the Soviet space shuttle orbiter Buran and its mighty Energia launch vehicle thundered into orbit in November 1988, the Russians seemed on the brink of catching their U.S. space rivals. Of course it didn't happen quite that way. The Soviet Union disintegrated and its space program fell on hard times. Neither Energia nor Buran ever flew again.

Rho Models has captured this historic combination in 1:144 scale. The Energia and Buran must be purchased separately, although the launcher itself is designed solely to be used with the orbiter.

The Energia kit contains a mixed bag of resin, PVC pipe, plastic-coated wire and metal parts. The quality of the resin castings is inconsistent. Most of the parts are average, but the four large engine bells and the bottom piece of the core booster were riddled with pinholes. (ed. note: To see the parts, check out the Quick Looks sections for the Energia and Buran kits.

Resin pieces and PVC pipe make up the four side boosters and the core. The fit of the resin detail parts is very much what you make it. I had to do considerable sanding on the upper and lower parachute covers and all the small resin separation motors to get a decent fit.

As suggested in the instructions, I used brass pins to mate the core and side boosters directly to the core booster and mounted the support struts as detail parts. I made the Energia-to-Buran struts by joining brass and plastic rod with super glue rather than soldering the metal rods together.

Assembly of the all-resin Buran also wasn't difficult, but it took more time than anticipated. I had to fill numerous pinholes and rescribe the door panel lines due to incomplete molding. I also filled in the poorly molded reaction control motor ports in the nose and used yellow decal to simulate the covers that seal the opening before launch. The two pods at the rear of the orbiter required reworking and puttying to fit and look right.

The Energia has a few minor inaccuracies. The engine bells on the core booster are smooth, but should be encircled with cooling lines. The core also lacks several prominent fuel pipes that I made from plastic rod. I added rocket nozzles to the lower parachute covers on the side boosters with drilled-out sprue.

I painted both models with Testors Model Master enamels. My references showed a slightly different paint scheme from that in the instructions, which is the first Energia vehicle launched in 1987 minus Buran. I used Light Gray for the details on the booster, a custom-mixed gray for the wing leading edges and nose on Buran, and metallic silver for the engines. Everything else is black and white.

The model measures slightly underscale according to the dimensions given in The Soviet Year In Space 1988 , but it certainly looks like the Energia-Buran duo when compared to photos.

The Energia-Buran is a challenging, complex kit that only experienced modelers should attempt. I spent 68 hours on mine, much of it tediously sanding the resin parts and painting the black-and-white pattern on the orbiter. It is the only kit of its kind in 1:144 scale, and with patience, builds up into an impressive companion to other space launch vehicle models in the same scale.

Les Dorr