The American STS Space Shuttle had the engines that provided a large portion of its thrust mounted directly on the shuttle itself. The Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) were designed to be reusable and were put on the orbiter to be recovered. Because the shuttle was side-mounted on the External Fuel Tank, the SSMEs had to gimbal as much as 10 degrees to accommodate for the offset center of mass. If this wasn't done, the stack would tip over and likely spin catastrophically out of control.

The Buran mounted on the Energia had a different design from the STS stack. The Buran Orbiter itself didn't provide the main thrust to get itself to space (I believe it only provided a bit of thrust at the end to adjust and reach its orbit.) The main engines were instead that of the Energia rocket.

How did the Energia rocket compensate for the offset center of mass? Via gimbaling of the engines on the Energia, or some offsetting design in the rocket itself?

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    $\begingroup$ Don't know for sure, but the core engines on Energia gimbal up to 7 degrees, and the booster engines also have single-axis gimbaling. Aerodynamic control surfaces on the orbiter are the other big possibility. $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Jul 23 '15 at 16:00
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    $\begingroup$ I hadn't even considered the aerodynamic control surfaces! Great point! $\endgroup$ – Sarah Bailey Jul 23 '15 at 16:11
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    $\begingroup$ @RussellBorogove Aero surfaces would stop being useful VERY early in the flight, and the center of balance issues would become important LATE in the flight of the first stage. So I am not sure how useful that would be. $\endgroup$ – geoffc Jul 23 '15 at 16:15
  • The "A" blocks (i.e. the side boosters, there are 4 of them) are offset over the center of mass in the direction opposite to the payload (rus1)
  • The engines of the "C" block (the main body) are also offset a bit.
  • A quite advanced control system for the time, that calculates and adjusts the mathematical model of the whole system during the flight and controls the engines in order to compensate for the asymmetry (rus2).

At the 05/15/1987 "polyus" (w/o the buran shuttle) video, you can see that the rocket pitched at 3 degrees at the initial takeoff seconds before the control system took control. However the computer managed to compensate the asymmetry in the end.

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    $\begingroup$ Is it possible for you to list the source in the original Russian too? If it came from an offline or non-public document, then what document? Again, this looks like good data, but it is still helpful to know where it came from. Also, a few of our members speak Russian. If you can, then thanks. $\endgroup$ – kim holder Apr 16 '16 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ I think, the most complete online archive regarding the Buran/Energia program is at www.buran.ru, it has an English version too, but it's way too small comparing to the Russian version. My answer was based on the article in "Modelist-Konstruktor" magazine (ISSN 0131-2243) from 11/11/1990 which is also presented on the site (rus1 link). $\endgroup$ – ilyakharlamov Apr 16 '16 at 22:40
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for checking that. I actually hadn't checked the link much, so i was a bit unfair. It clearly states the original address. I had thought it was derived from something else, but it isn't (and it includes a reference to the print article). $\endgroup$ – kim holder Apr 16 '16 at 23:42

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