The Soviet Union is preparing for an apparently unmanned test launch of its first space shuttle from the Baikonur space center in Central Asia, the official Tass news agency said. The shuttle is a reusable craft called Buran, which means “snowstorm,” Tass added. Soviet space officials have said that the craft, similar in appearance to the U.S. space shuttle, will be unmanned and will be launched before the end of the year. Tass did not give a date for the test launch, but similar preflight announcements are generally followed by launches within 24 to 48 hours. The shuttle vehicle is to be blasted into orbit by the Soviets’ Energia rocket, which is capable of lifting payloads of up to 100 tons.