The Russian shuttle program was inaugurated in 1976 in response to the American space shuttle. The shuttle was called "Buran" ("Snowstorn" in Russian). Six test flights of scale models took place in the 1980's, culminating in an unmanned launch of Buran itself on November 15, 1988.

Although the first flight showed promise, the Soviet Union was in turmoil at the same time and funding for the project was cut. The project was officially canceled in 1993, although work had halted long before that date. Two other orbiters were under construction at the time: "Ptichka" ("Little Bird"), and the vehicle that would become "Buran III".

The project was reactivated in 2001 using international funds as part of the international space station project. Construction on Buran III has been quickly completed and the orbiter has been readied for launch.

Launch facilities for the Russian space shuttle are at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the Republic of Kazakhstan.