Considering that the Soviets copied practically everything else on the Space Shuttle, did they also make their own version of the Canadarm robotic arm?

  • $\begingroup$ You need to be clearer with your question, do you mean "did they make a robotic arm" or "did they copy a particular design". I'd normally pass by such distinctions but you've gone out of your way to make a political point so it clearly matters to you which outcome you want to test. $\endgroup$
    – Puffin
    Oct 13, 2018 at 22:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Puffin: The accepted answer would answer either interpretation of the question. $\endgroup$
    – DrSheldon
    Oct 14, 2018 at 0:40
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    $\begingroup$ Contrary to popular belief, Buran was not a direct copy of the Space Shuttle. Despite outward similarities (because when you are making a reusable, VTHL space shuttle with '80 tech, there aren't that many options), it had many differences. The most notables probably were the Energia rocket for launch and the jet engines for landing. I've heard that the Soviet deliberately let the confusion to frighten the US, hinting that no secret was safe if they could steal the plans for the Space Shuttle. $\endgroup$
    – Eth
    May 3, 2019 at 16:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Eth No main engines on the Buran either. The one that actually flew also had no fuel cells, just batteries, although these were planned for the operational vehicle. $\endgroup$ May 3, 2019 at 21:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Eth jet engines were originally planned for landing, but IIRC that idea was abandoned. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbes
    May 4, 2019 at 8:03

1 Answer 1


The Soviets did develop an arm with a design similar to the Shuttle's Canadarm. The arm was called the On-board Manipulator System (SBM). It was developed by the Central Scientific Research Institute of Robotic Technology and Technical Cybernetics (TsNII RTK) in Leningrad.

It had 6 joints, was 15 m long and weighed 360 kg. Max. payload was 30 tons. It could be operated from the cockpit, but also from Mission Control directly. Buran was designed to carry two of these. On the first mission, no arm was carried though.

This is a photo of the arm in a test rig:

Buran SBM arm

Source: book Energiya-Buran; the Soviet Space Shuttle (by Hendrickx and Vis).

Like other aspects of the Buran design, whether this was a copy of the US/Canadian design remains to be seen. There's a big difference between developing a system that looks similar, and building a clone from stolen plans.


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