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Although the USSR virtually abandoned lunar exploration with the end of the Moon Race in the mid-1970s, Soviet scientists still saw the Moon as an important target for research. The remaining mystery of the Moon's internal composition and the ongoing debate about the origin of the Earth's only satellite still spurred the interest of scientists in new missions.
The architecture of the Luna-Glob lander as of the end of 2010. The soil-sampling robotic arm can be seen on left. An additional surface-drilling hardware could be included, with the total mass of science payloads onboard the lander reaching 30 kilograms. Credit: IKI / NPO Lavochkin
Initial design of Luna-Glob
By 1998, NPO Lavochkin evaluated two possible variations of the Luna-Glob spacecraft, which could be launched by the existing Molniya or by the prospective Soyuz-Fregat rocket. The ambitious project included a cruise module, a cassette with pencil-shape penetrator probes and a 250-kilogram polar lander.
A ring-shaped cassette would hold penetrators attached to its perimeter. The cassette would also feature a programming timer, power battery and solid-propellant motors. At one point, ten "small" and two "large" penetrators were planned. They would be equipped with seismometers and other instruments. In addition to seismic research, large penetrators were expected to be used in the search for traces of water on the Moon. (397)
The original mission scenario
After entering an initial Earth orbit, the upper stage would send the probe on a four-and-half day journey toward the Moon. During the approach to the Moon, the cassette would separate from the mother spacecraft and symmetrically placed solid motors send the module into a spin of three rotations per second. As the spacecraft reached a distance of 700 kilometers from the surface of the Moon, the spin rate would increase to 20 rotations per second, after which, five out of 10 small penetrators would be released. As a result of the centrifugal force, the penetrators would fly away from their carrier with the speed of 20 meters per second, while simultaneously descending toward the lunar surface with a speed of 2.6 kilometers per second.
At the moment of reaching the lunar surface some 250 seconds after release, the probes would be located on the periphery of a circle with a diameter of 10 kilometers. The penetrators would strike the ancient lunar soil with a speed of 60-120 meters per second, ensuring their burial into the surface.
In the meantime, the five remaining penetrators would separate at an altitude of 350 kilometers and their impact points would form a circle with a diameter of five kilometers. The two circles of penetrators would thus create a virtual seismic antenna on the surface of the Moon, which would help scientists study the internal composition of the Earth's natural satellite and possibly receive crucial information on the history of the Earth-Moon system.
In the initial stage of the Luna-Glob project, the exact force needed for the penetrator to survive impact with the Moon was still unclear. Future ground tests promised to show whether some additional braking maneuver of the penetrator carrier would be necessary to slow down the approach.
Upon the release of all penetrators, the main spacecraft would fire its engine to enter a lunar orbit with its perigee (lower point) located over the South Pole of the Moon. A small soft-landing vehicle would be released from the altitude of around 500 kilometers and use its own braking engine to reduce its orbital speed of around two kilometers per second. After the separation of the breaking engine, the lander was expected to land on the surface with a speed of around 80 meters per second.
The primary role of the remaining lunar orbiter would be relaying signals from the polar station to Earth. However, with its polar orbit, it could also be used for global cartography of the Moon, if mass and funding allowed. This flight scenario could not be implemented due to lack of funds.
Attempts at rebirth
The first attempt to reanimate the Luna-Glob project were made at the end of 1999, or almost two years after the virtual cancellation of the program. The ever increasing complexity of the proposed mission to Phobos soon gave scientists a reason to advocate a pathfinder test flight, which could try new hardware and technologies proposed for Phobos-Grunt, but during a much shorter and cheaper mission to the Moon. On November 12, 1999, the Vernadsky GEOKhI institute officially asked the Russian Academy of Sciences president Yuri Osipov to support the idea of using the Phobos-Grunt platform for a mission to the Moon. Indeed, a modest sum was considered in the 2000 space budget for the preliminary evaluation of the plan, however the idea was ultimately rejected. Phobos-Grunt would remain the first Russian planetary mission to go into deep-space after the Mars-96 fiasco.
Internationalization of the project: Japan
Another attempt to revive the Russian lunar program was made by way of an international venture. Obviously, any project involving foreign participation and endorsed by an inter-government agreement would have a better chance of getting funding. In November 2004, at the lunar exploration conference in India, the head of Vernadsky GEOKhI, Erik Galimov, discussed just such an option with the head of the Japanese Lunar-A project. Typically for a planetary exploration project, the rocket was the most expensive item of the Lunar-A program, dragging behind the funding. As a result, the potential partners discussed a scheme under which Russia would provide the launcher capable of delivering a 550-kilogram spacecraft into lunar orbit in 2006, in exchange for merging Luna-Glob and Lunar-A projects.
Since a Japanese team had made significant progress in the development of penetrators equipped with seismic sensors, it would be logical to carry them onboard the Russian spacecraft. Galimov sent this proposal to the head of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Yuri Osipov, who in turn, on Feb. 2, 2005, made an official request on the subject to the head of Roskosmos, Anatoly Perminov. By March 21, Perminov responded that it would not be possible to fund an extra Soyuz rocket with a Fregat upper stage at a price tag of 1,000 million rubles and Japan would have to purchase the vehicle commercially. That is exactly what European Space Agency had decided to do for its Mars and Venus probes. Perminov did confirm the possibility of the Luna-Glob launch in 2012.
As a cheaper alternative, GEOKhI requested Moscow-based Khrunichev enterprise to evaluate the possibility of launching Lunar-A on a Rockot booster. In March 2005, the Khrunichev director informed GEOKhI that a preliminary analysis confirmed the possibility of carrying the Lunar-A into the Earth orbit, along with a Japanese solid-propellant escape stage. Despite the technical feasibility of this plan, the scenario again required funding support from the Russian space agency, which was not forthcoming.
Still, negotiations with the Japanese lunar team resumed during another lunar exploration conference, ILWEG, in Beijing in 2006. The head of NPO Lavochkin, Georgy Poleshyuk and the company's leading developer, A. V. Lukyanchikov, who had first proposed the design of penetrators for Luna-Glob, discussed the possibility of equipping the Russian spacecraft with Japanese penetrators, which, by that time, had gone through full-scale tests. Soon after the conference, Lukyanchikov and O. B. Khavroshin visited Japan. The Japanese delegation then visited Russia, however in the end no agreement could be reached. The Japanese Lunar-A project itself was canceled by the beginning of 2007. At the time, hopes still remained that Japanese penetrators could fly onboard Luna-Glob.
New beginning for Luna-Glob
In the second half of 2000s, funding for the Russian space program started improving, promising a revival of some stalled projects, including Luna-Glob. Speaking at the 5th International Aerospace Congress in Moscow, on August 29, 2006, Deputy Chief of the Federal Space Agency, Vitaly Davydov, listed Luna-Glob among high-priority exploration projects funded by the Russian government. In December of the same year, Roskosmos announced that the launch of the Luna-Glob spacecraft was scheduled for 2012. Moreover, in November 2007, Russian officials quoted the launch date for Luna-Glob as 2010 and at the beginning of December 2007, during President Putin's visit to NPO Lavochkin, its head Georgy Poleshuyk announced that the first new-generation spacecraft would be launched toward the Moon in 2009, or "three years earlier than planned."
Initial requirements issued in 2008 for the preliminary design of the Luna-Glob project, called for the launch of the probe onboard a Soyuz-2 rocket with a Fregat upper stage. The spacecraft would have a mass of 2,125 kilograms and carry four penetrators and an orbiter. Following the release of the penetrators, the orbiter would conduct a three-year scientific mission in lunar orbit. (388) In the meantime, plans to carry a small lunar lander onboard Luna-Glob were abandoned sometime after 2006.
Cooperation with China
The jump-start of the Russian lunar exploration program also coincided with the emerging space power of China. The two countries apparently looked at the possibility of cooperation in the field lunar missions on September 8, 2006, during the 7th meeting of a sub-commission on space, which was a part of the Russian-Chinese commission, preparing regular summits. Speaking to journalists, head of Roskosmos, Anatoly Perminov, said that lunar exploration was a priority during the meeting and several contracts involving Russian and Chinese organizations had been signed. Perminov promised an agreement on cooperation in the field before the end of 2006. However no actual joint mission was ultimately announced.
Loss of penetrators
For a number of years, high-speed penetrators represented a signature of the Luna-Glob project. However the concept posed a serious technical risk for the mission. Available test data could only confirm that the seismic equipment onboard penetrators could survive the impact with a speed of 1,500 meters per second. In the meantime, the actual impact speed during the Luna-Glob mission was expected to reach 2,500 meters per second. Given the fact, that Luna-Glob would be the first Russian mission to the Moon in decades, the penetrator experiment looked increasingly risky. Initially, there was an attempt at reducing the speed of penetrators to a semi-hard landing. However NPO Lavochkin struggled to develop the solid-propellant system which would have to slow-down the penetrators during their descent to the Moon. Apparently, sometime before 2010, the decision was made to abandon the development of penetrators for the Luna-Glob mission.
Since around 2007, Russian and Indian space agencies had discussed a joint lunar mission, which became known in Russia as Luna-Resurs. Until 2009, Luna-Resurs was expected to follow Luna-Glob and, possibly, use its predecessor as a relay station for communications with ground control. However by 2010, Luna-Glob and Luna-Resurs became essentially parallel missions and both included standard landers developed by NPO Lavochkin. However Luna-Glob would most likely include surface-drilling equipment, while an Indian-built rover would be onboard Luna-Resurs. The Luna-Glob lander, dubbed Landing Module or PsM, was expected to function on the surface for around one year. (440)
On April 15, 2010, the Space council of the Russian Academy of Sciences signed Decision No. 10310-09 to reconfigure the Luna-Glob mission and coordinate the development of its lander with that of Luna-Resurs project. (444)
At the beginning of 2010, public information about a launch date for the mission was blurry. According to some reports at the time, Luna-Glob had the same or lower priority as Luna-Resurs, pushing its launch date to 2013 or later. However as late as October 2010, other sources quoted 2012, as the launch date for Luna-Glob. In this case, the mission would still precede Luna-Resurs, which was scheduled for 2013, according to all sources. The Luna-Glob could land in the same polar area as Luna-Resurs or on the opposite pole of the Moon. However by the end of 2010, reports from the Space Research Institute had confirmed that Luna-Glob had moved behind Luna-Resurs with the launch date of the Russian mission set for the fall of 2014. (444) By the beginning of 2011, the mass of the lander was reported as 1,260 kilograms. (489)
2010 orbiter concept
Despite the new priority given to the lander, the Luna-Glob mission still retained its orbiter. The vehicle's payload was re-configured and a special adapter interfacing the orbiter with the lander was added. The architecture of the orbiter would be based on the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft as much as possible, however unlike the latter, the Soyuz-Fregat rocket would be enough to launch the mission. As of 2010, the Luna-Glob orbiter was expected to carry scientific payloads with a total mass of 120 kilograms and function in lunar orbit for up to three years. They would include remote-sensing instruments for the mapping of minerals and water ice distribution on the surface of the Moon to a depth of several meters, as well as temperature measurements on the lunar surface. Another scientific package would be dedicated to the studies of electric and magnetic fields, lunar dust and plasma in the vicinity of the Moon. LORD radio detector would be used for astrophysics research, including space rays and high-energy physics. Finally, the orbiter would carry an instrument for registering micrometeorites and dust particles. (440) By the beginning of 2011, the mass of the orbiter was reported as 1,630 kilograms. (489)
Following the launch of the Luna-Glob mission onboard a Soyuz-2-1b rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome, the Fregat upper stage would use its own engine to reach an initial circular orbit around the Earth. Two additional firings of the Fregat upper stage would stretch the orbit into a long ellipse, rising its apogee (highest point) above the Earth surface. The Fregat upper stage would then separate and the Luna-Glob orbiter would fire its own engine to propel the spacecraft toward the Moon. The lander would then separate from the orbiter, followed by the jettisoning of the interface truss connecting two vehicles. On approaching the Moon, both orbiter and lander would use their own engines to brake into initial elliptical lunar orbits. Additional maneuvers would then place the orbiter into an operational circular orbit with an altitude of around 700 kilometers above the lunar surface. In the meantime, the lander would conduct several maneuvers into lunar orbit before committing to a powered descent and touchdown onto the lunar surface (440) near the North Pole.The lander was expected to function on the surface for at least one year, while the orbiter was to last for three years. (489)
By November 2011, unofficial reports said that Luna-Glob had been switched from a Soyuz rocket to Zenit.
As of 2017, a radioisotope thermal electric generator was to be used for critical power supply onboard the lander during the lunar nights.
Speaking at a press-conference dedicated to the 40th anniversary of Lunokhod-1 landing in 2010, Aleksandr Bazilevsky, the Head of the Laboratory of Comparative Planetology at Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry Institute, said that sites for landing of Luna-Resurs and Luna-Glob spacecraft had already been selected.
Post-Phobos-Grunt revisions in 2012
Following the Phobos-Grunt launch fiasco, all planetary exploration and science projects in Russia faced uncertain future. Luna-Resurs and Luna Glob missions were now not expected before 2016-2017. According to unofficial sources, both projects were reverted back to the experimental phase, making it likely another major redesign of the missions. During 2012, it looked like orbital and landing mission were split into separately launched vehicles and by June of that year, it was decided that the orbital vehicle would fly first as early as 2016, followed by the landing mission around 2017.
Key dates in the Luna-Glob project:
2010 Dec. 28: Roskosmos issues State Contract No. 361-5420/10 for the Luna-Glob research and development project, OKR, to NPO Lavochkin.
2011 Sept. 14: Roskosmos issues State Contract No. 361-9870/11 for the Luna-Resurs research and development project, OKR, to NPO Lavochkin.
2012 Dec. 21: Roskosmos issues State Contract No. 361-5420/12 for the Luna-Glob research and development project, OKR, to NPO Lavochkin.
2013 March 14: Roskosmos and the European Space Agency, ESA, sign an agreement on cooperation in exploration of Mars and other bodies of the solar system with robotic spacecraft.
2013 Dec. 24: Roskosmos issues State Contract No. 361-9009/13/445 for the Luna-Resurs-1 research and development project, OKR, to NPO Lavochkin.
2014 May 8: Section 8 of the Scientific and Technical Council at Roskosmos reviews the results of the Addendum No. 2 to the experimental project, DEP No. 2, of the Luna-Glob research and development project, OKR.
2014 Oct. 9: Roskosmos issues Decision No. ON-300-r on the organization of the flight control of the spacecraft for fundamental scientific rsearch.
2015 Aug. 26: Roskosmos and ESA exchange letters on the initial phase in the exploration of the Moon.
2015 Aug. 28: Roskosmos issues Decision No. MKh-316-r on revision of the implementation of the Luna Glob research and development project.
Evolution of the Luna-Glob mission during 2007-2008:
Russian payloads for Luna-Glob and Luna-Resurs mission, as identified during 2010 (423):
Initial architecture proposed for the Luna-Glob mission.
Circa 2007 version of the Luna-Glob spacecraft including a lander (center) in launch configuration.
Depiction of the Luna-Glob spacecraft showing the release of a lunar descent vehicle. Credit: (388)
Circa 2008 version of the Luna-Glob spacecraft in launch configuration. The orbiting mission no longer features a lander.
A depiction of the Luna-Glob spacecraft showing release of a penetrator.
The configuration of the Luna-Glob spacecraft in the lunar orbit with its antennas deployed following the release of penetrators, as it was envisioned around 2008.
A scale model of the Luna-Glob spacecraft, which NPO Lavochkin demonstrated at various aerospace shows during 2008 and 2009. Luna-Glob was to be the first Russian spacecraft heading to the Moon since the mid-1970s until it was superceded by the Russian-Indian Luna-Resurs project in 2009-2010. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak
Luna-Glob spacecraft in cruise configuration as of 2010. From top to bottom can be seen a lander, an orbiter and a Fregat propulsion stage. Credit: NPO Lavochkin
The architecture of the Luna-Glob lander as of August 2010. The soil-sampling robotic arm can be seen on left. An additional surface-drilling hardware could be included, with the total mass of science payloads onboard the lander reaching 30 kilograms. Credit: IKI / NPO Lavochkin
The launch configuration of the Luna-Glob spacecraft as of 2011. Credit: IKI
Luna-Glob orbiter and lander in cruise configuration, as depicted around 2011. Credit: IKI
A depiction of the Luna-Glob orbiter circa 2010. Credit: IKI
The mission scenario for the Luna-Glob orbiter. Credit: IKI
Key components of the Luna-Glob lander circa 2011. Credit: IKI