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In depth:

Luna-24

Luna-24


Luna-Glob

Luna-Glob


Luna-Resurs

Luna-Resurs


Luna-Grunt

Luna-Grunt


Poligon

Lunny Poligon


 

 

Luna

Book

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PICTURE GALLERY

launch

Launch of a E1 probe.


Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak

Luna

A backup copy of the E1 spacecraft, which was the first to escape Earth gravity. Click to enlarge.


Luna

The E1A spacecraft. It differed from E1 by the position of the solar wind detectors. Those on the upper and lower hemisphere were at the same "longitude" on the E1 but 90 degrees apart on the E1A. The magnetometer boom was also different. Click to enlarge.


The backup copy of the E3 spacecraft, which was the first to swing around the Moon and to photograph its dark side.


The E6 lunar lander in prElaunch configuration. Credit: NPO Lavochkin


The E6 spacecraft. Click to enlarge: 300 by 400 pixels / 44 KB. Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak


Luna-9

The Luna-9 lander. Copyright © 2009, 2000 Anatoly Zak


A still from archival footage shows pr-launch processing of the E6 lander. Credit: RKK Energia


The E6S lunar-orbiting spacecraft in prElaunch configuration. Credit: NPO Lavochkin


The backup copy of Luna-10 spacecraft, which orbited the Moon.


The carrier stage, which was used to deliver Luna-9 landers and Luna-10 orbiters toward the Moon.


The E8-5 lunar sample return spacecraft during prelaunch processing. Credit: NPO Lavochkin


The ascent stage of the E8-5 spacecraft, which delivered soil samples from the lunar surface back to Earth.


The reentry capsule of the E8-5 spacecraft in landing configuration.


Lunokhod

A full-scale prototype of the Lunokhod-1 rover, which landed on the surface of the Moon on Nov. 17, 1970. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak


Lunokhod

The Lunokhod-3, the unflown successor to the Lunokhod-1 and 2 rovers, which worked on the lunar surface.


Luna

The landing platform, which delivered automated lunar rovers on the surface of the Moon.


Luna

The artist rendering of the E8-5M lunar sample return spacecraft on the surface of the Moon. Credit: NPO Lavochkin


Luna-Glob

Luna-Glob would be the first Russian spacecraft heading to the Moon since mid-1970s. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

Above: The Soviet E6 Luna lander during a cruise to the Moon.


The USSR pioneered the exploration of the Moon with a series of unmanned missions from 1958 to 1976. Below is a complete list of unmanned Soviet lunar missions:

Launch date
Spacecraft
development
name*
Official name* Mission goal

Launcher/serial number

Comments
Sept. 23, 1958
E1 No. 1
-
Impact
8K72**/B1-3
The booster rocket failed at T+93 seconds
Oct. 12, 1958
E1 No. 2
-
Impact
8K72/B1-4
Booster exploded at T+104 seconds
Dec. 4, 1958
E1 No. 3
-
Impact
8K72/B1-5
Rocket booster failed at T+245.4 seconds
Jan. 2, 1959
E1 No. 4
Impact
8K72/B1-6
World's first spacecraft to escape Earth gravity. Missed the Moon
June 18, 1959
E1A No. 5
-
Impact
8K72/I1-7
Failed at T+153 sec. due to flight control problem. (84)
Sept. 12, 1959
E1A No. 7
Luna-2
Impact
8K72/I1-7B
World's first lunar impact
Oct. 4, 1959
E2A
Luna-3
Flyby
8K72/I1-8
First photo of the Moon's far side
April 15, 1960
E3 No. 1
-
Flyby
8K72/I1-9
3rd stage failure. Reached 200,000 kilometers distance
April 16, 1960
E3 No. 2
-
Flyby
8K72/L1-92
Failed at T+0.4 seconds and destroyed
Jan. 4, 1963
E6 No. 2
-
Lunar landing
8K78L/T-103-09
Stranded in the low Earth orbit

Feb. 3, 1963

E6 No. 3
-
Lunar landing
8K78L/G103-10
Failed to reach orbit at T+105.5 seconds
Apr. 2, 1963
E6 No. 4
Luna-4
Lunar landing
8K78L/G103-11
Missed the Moon by 8,500 kilometers
March 21, 1964
E6 No. 6
-
Lunar landing
8K78M/T15000-20
Failed to reach orbit
April 20, 1964
E6 No. 5
-
Lunar landing
8K78M/1-15000-21
Failed to reach orbit
March 12, 1965
E6 No. 9
Kosmos-60
Lunar landing
8K78L/R103-25
Failed to leave low Earth orbit
April 10, 1965
E6 No. 8
-
Lunar landing
8K78L/R103-26
Failed to reach Earth orbit
May 9, 1965
E6 No. 10
Luna-5
Lunar landing
8K78M/U103-30
Crashed into the Moon
June 8, 1965
E6 No. 7
Luna-6
Lunar landing
8K78M/U103-31
Missed the Moon by 160,000 kilometers
July 18, 1965
3MV-4 No. 3
Zond-3
Lunar flyby/Mars orbit vicinity
8K78
Photographed the Moon during a flyby
Oct. 4, 1965
E6 No. 11
Luna-7
Lunar landing
8K78/U103-27
Crashed into the Moon
Dec. 3, 1965
E6 No. 12
Luna-8
Lunar landing
8K78/U103-28
Crashed into lunar syrface during landing attempt on Dec. 7, 1965, at 00:51 Moscow Time.
Jan. 31, 1966
E6 No. 13/202
Luna-9
Lunar landing
8K87M/U103-32
World's first soft Moon landing
March 1, 1966
E6S No. 204
Kosmos-111
Lunar orbiter
8K78M/N103-41
Failed to leave Earth orbit
March 31, 1966
E6S No. 206
Luna-10
Lunar orbiter
8K78M/N103-42
Entered Moon orbit, active for 56 days
Aug. 24, 1966
E6LF No. 101
Luna-11
Lunar orbiter
8K78M/N103-43
Active in the Moon orbit for 38 days
Oct. 22, 1966
E6LF No. 102
Luna-12
Lunar orbiter
8K78M/N103-44
Active in the Moon orbit for 85 days
Dec. 21, 1966
E6M No. 205
Luna-13
Lunar landing
8K78M/N103-45
Soft-landed and studied the Moon
March 10, 1967
7K-L1P No. 2P
Kosmos-146
L1 test
UR-500/
N10722701
Entered Earth escape orbit
April 8, 1967
7K-L1P No. 3P
Kosmos-154
L1 test
UR-500/
N10722801
Failed to leave Earth orbit
May 17, 1967
E6LS No. 111
Kosmos-159
Lunar orbiter
8K78/Ya716-56
Manned moon program support
Sept. 28, 1967
7K-L1 / 4L
-
Circumlunar
UR-500
Failed after T+56 seconds.
Nov. 22, 1967
7K-L1/ 5L
-
Circumlunar
UR-500
Failed to reach orbit
Feb. 7, 1968
E6LS No. 112
-
Lunar orbiter
8K78M
Failed to reach orbit
March 2, 1968
7K-L1 No. 6
Zond-4
Circumlunar
UR-500
Entered heliocentric orbit
April 7, 1968
E6LS No. 113
Luna-14
Circumlunar
8K78M Ya716-58
Orbited the Moon
April 23, 1968
7K-L1 No. 7
-
Circumlunar
UR-500
Failed to reach orbit
Sept. 15, 1968
7K-L1 No. 9
Zond-5
Circumlunar
UR-500
Flew around the Moon
Nov. 10, 1968
7K-L1 No. 12
Zond-6
Circumlunar
UR-500
Flew around the Moon
Jan. 20, 1969
7K-L1/ 13L
-
Circumlunar
UR-500
Launch failure
Feb. 19, 1969
E8 No. 201
-
Lunar rover
8K82K (UR-500)
Failed to reach orbit
Feb. 21, 1969
7K-L1S
-
Circumlunar
N-1 / L3
Exploded during launch
June 14, 1969
E8-5 No. 402
-
Sample return
UR-500
Failed to reach orbit
July 3, 1969
7K-L1S
-
Circumlunar
N-1 / 5L
Exploded at launch
July 13, 1969
E8-5 No. 401
Luna-15
Sample return
UR-500
Crashed on lunar surface
Aug. 8, 1969
7K-L1 No. 11
Zond-7
Circumlunar
UR-500
Flew around the Moon
Sept. 23, 1969
E8-5 No. 403
Kosmos-300
Sample return
UR-500
Failed to leave Earth orbit
Oct. 22, 1969
E8-5 No. 404
Kosmos-305
Sample return
UR-500
Failed to leave Earth orbit
Feb. 6, 1970
E8-5 No. 405
-
Sample return
UR-500
Failed to reach orbit
Sept. 12, 1970
E8-5 No. 406
Luna-16
Sample return
UR-500
First automatic lunar sample return
Oct. 20, 1970
7K-L1 No. 14
Zond-8
Circumlunar
UR-500
Flew around the Moon
Nov. 10, 1970
E8 No. 203
Luna-17
Lunar rover
UR-500
First rover on the Moon
June 27, 1971
7K-LOK
-
Circumlunar
N-1 / 6L
Failed to reach orbit
Sept. 2, 1971
E8-5 No. 407
Luna-18
Sample return
UR-500
Crashed on lunar surface
Sept. 28, 1971
E8LS No. 408
Luna-19
Lunar orbiter
UR-500
Orbited the Moon
Feb. 14, 1972
E8-5 No. 408
Luna-20
Sample return
UR-500
Returned samples from the Moon
Nov. 23, 1972
7K-LOK
-
Circumlunar
N-1/ 7L
Failed to reach orbit
Jan. 8, 1973
E8 No. 204
Luna-21
Lunar rover
UR-500
Landed and traveled on the Moon
May 29, 1974
E8LS No. 220
Luna-22
Lunar orbiter
UR-500
Orbited the Moon
Oct. 28, 1974
E8-5M No. 410
Luna-23
Sample return
UR-500
Damaged during Moon landing
Oct. 16, 1975
E8-5M No. 412
-
Sample return
8K82K (UR-500)
Failed to reach orbit
Aug. 9, 1976
E8-5M No. 413
Sample return
UR-500
Returned lunar samples

*In the second column the table gives the name of the spacecraft as they were identified in the classified paperwork by their development centers, while the third column shows the name announced in the Soviet press. The missions which did not reach the orbit would not be acknowledged at all at the time. The spacecraft, which fail in low orbit would normally receive Cosmos name.

**An 8K72 launcher is sometimes identified as Lunnik or Luna, 8K78 is also known as the Molniya launcher, both are based on Korolev's R-7 ICBM. 8K82K (UR-500) launcher is known today as Proton.

Note: This table includes missions conducted within Soviet L1 and N-1/L-3 projects. Although all of them flew unmanned, they tested hardware, which was developed with the goal of landing a man on the Moon.

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Post-Soviet developments

Although the USSR virtually abandoned lunar exploration with the end of the Moon race in mid-1970s, Russian scientists still saw the Moon as a potential target for research. During the 1980s, a lunar polar orbiter, LSN (1L), was one of several space missions proposed for a newly developed spacecraft platform developed at NPO Lavochkin. However, at the time, the lunar mission lost in priority to Mars-bound projects.

Origin of the Luna-Glob project

Only after the fall of the Soviet Union and the following a decade of economic turmoil, another lunar exploration project -- Luna-Glob -- made it into the Russian space p rogram at the beginning of the 21st century.

At the end of 1992, just a year after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Erik Galimov became the head of Moscow's Vernadsky Geochemistry Institute - the organization which was once responsible for studies of lunar soil. In his new position, Galimov became a strong lobbiest for the return to the Moon.

On Sept. 20, 1996, on the eve of the ill-fated Mars-96 mission, Galimov delivered a report on lunar exploration to the Space Council of the Academy of Sciences, RAN, usually tasked to determine the nation's scientific priorities in space. The council then recommended "to review the possibility of including the lunar mission in the plan of preliminary research projects, NIR, which would be funded by the Russian government during the upcoming 1997. Within a month, based on that recommendation, Galimov, sent a letter to the Director of the Russian space agency, Yuri Koptev, urging him to institute a long-term program of lunar exploration, starting with the immediate inclusion into the nearest Russian space plans (Space Program until 2005), of an unmanned orbiter carrying high-speed surface penetrators, with the launch date no later than the end of 1998.

Surface penetrators were first developed for the Mars-96 mission and were considered to be a relatively low-tech way of obtaining information from beneath the lunar surface. However the devices in the Martian mission used parachutes, which were not much help in the airless lunar environment. As a result, rocket-propulsion would have to be used to control the impact velocity.

Galimov's rational for implementing the mission was that lunar exploration promised a breakthrough in Earth sciences; that lunar surface provided an ideal location for astrophysics research and that future energy crisis on Earth predicted around the middle of the 21st century could be resolved with the help of mining for thermonuclear fuel on the Moon and by placing solar power stations on the lunar surface. Galimov also argued that with the unique experience in the development of moon probes at NPO Lavochkin, the next lunar mission could be implemented in parallel and at the fraction of the cost of the Spektr space telescopes, thanks to the possibility of using medium-lift and relatively inexpensive Molniya rocket. (Molniya could deliver seven tons to the low Earth orbit, including its fourth stage.) (At the time, international missions within Spektr series were main big ticket items in the Russian space science budget.) The Russian space agency director Yuri Koptev, the veteran of NPO Lavochkin himself, took Galimov's proposals seriously by commissioning TsNIIMash research institute, the agency's main think tank, to prepare an expert review of the subject. The organization fully supported Galimov's position. TsNIIMash especially strongly endorsed ideas about industrial exploration of lunar minerals.

The institute predicted that in the first quarter or in the first half of the 21st century, the Moon was bound to be included in the Earth’s industrial infrastructure. According to TsNIIMash, mining for Helium-3 on the Moon could give humanity around 5,000-years worth of power supply. The institute recommended to include a penetrator-carrying orbiter and the lander with the rover into the Russian space program.

On Dec. 18, 1996, following a fiasco with the launch of Mars-96 probe, Galimov wrote an official letter to the president of Russian Academy of Sciences, RAN, Yuri Osipov, urging him to focus the future Russian planetary program on the Moon and on the return of soil from small bodies in the Solar System, such as asteroids. The latter goal could be conviniently combined with the exploration of Mars, by sending a spacecraft to Phobos. Galimov argued that any further missions focusing exclusively on Mars would not be justified, given the extensive Mars exploration program implemented by NASA. He proposed to launch the lunar orbiter at the end of 1998 - beginning of 1999, which could serve as a procursor for the mission to Phobos targeted for launch in 2001. In parallel, another lunar mission would be launched in 2001. Around 100 billion rubles annually would be required for all three missions. By January 1997, these ideas were formalized in the Concept for the Solar System exploration program in Russia. The document agreed upon by all major Russian planetary science institutions and the industry was submitted to the Russian space agency and to the Academy of Sciences . The only exception was Moscow-based Space Research Insitute, IKI, the key Russian organization in planetary science exploration, since its team still held some hope to re-fly Mars-96 mission as soon as the next window to Mars would open in 1998. After these hopes were dashed, IKI issued a slightly revised version of the plan worked out during 1997.

By that time, the Russian space budget for the period of 1996-2000 had already been approved and not counting the ill-fated Mars-96 provided no funding for planetary missions.

After consideration of all proposals made under most difficult financial situation in Russia, the Planetary Section within the Academy of Science Space Council approved three deep-space launches:

  • In 1999 - Luna-27, carrying the orbiter, lander and surface penetrators;
  • In 2001 - Mars Together, a joint Russian-American mission to Mars carrying a rover and penetrators;
  • In 2003 - Phobos-Grunt;

In the 1997 space budget, some seed money was provided for these projects. During 1997-1998, the price tag of the Luna-27 project was estimated at 250-280 billion rubles (or $50 million). After being called Luna-27 and Luna-Geokhimik, the project became known as Luna-Glob, as proposed by Yu. A. Surkov, a chief developer at Vernadsky GEOKhI, who also gave the Phobos-Grunt project its name.

During 1997, based on the technical assignment from the Vernadsky GEOKhI institute, NPO Lavochkin worked on the preliminary design of the Luna-Glob spacecraft compatible with the Molniya rocket. Also, mockups of scientific instruments were developed and manufactured. GEOKhI issued and documented technical proposals for both Luna-Glob and Mars-Aster.

On Oct. 27, 1997, the planetary section of the Space Council of the Academy of Sciences requested a full-scale development, (known in Russia as OKR), for Luna-Glob and Phobos-Grunt projects with projected launches in 1999 and 2003, respectively. At the time, the section's wish list also included the Luna-Geolog (Luna-Geologist) sample return mission to be launched in 2004 and the Luna-Geolog rover mission in 2006. (402)

Death of the original project

In 1998, with the Russian economy in a tailspin, the Kremlin had to make many very hard choices. In space science program, the Russian government was tied by international agreements on the Spektr project, a trio of sophisticated orbital observatories, with a partially-completed Spektr-RG telescope, being first in line. Since Russia and her international partners had already invested millions of dollars into the program, all other (cheaper) space science projects had to be axed in the ultimately fruitless attempt to save at least Spektr-RG.

In May 1998, the planetary section was directed to leave either one lunar mission or the Phobos mission in the Russian space plans for the next seven years. Thus, the nation's planetary program would have at least one project, which had a chance to fly before 2005, money provided. With their backs to the wall, planetary scientists chose Phobos-Grunt, as the most unique and sophisticated mission. Scientists could only hope that the eventual economic recovery in Russia would lead to the renewed interest in lunar exploration.

On June 2, 1998, the Planetary Section of the Russian Academy of Sciences made an official decision to preserve Phobos-Grunt, with the expected launch date five years later -- in 2003. The lunar exploration was deferred to a better times, but not officially abandoned.

Multi-phased program

With the improvement of the Russian economy in the second post-Soviet decade, Russia started developing a multi-step program in unmanned lunar exploration. The first Luna-Glob lunar orbiter could be followed by a lander, which was initially known as Luna-Glob-2 and was later designated as Luna-Resurs. A standard lander developed for Luna-Resurs could be reused in further missions to the Moon and beyond. Luna-Resurs could be followed by the Luna-Grunt dual mission, which would carry a rover and the ascent stage to return lunar samples back to Earth. Hardware developed for Luna-Glob, Luna-Resurs and Luna-Grunt missions could ultimately be used to establish so-called Lunny Poligon (Lunar Range), featuring a series of stationary and movable facilities on the surface of the Moon.

New plans, launch dates emerge in 2012

Following the Phobos-Grunt fiasco in November 2011, a new Russian plan for unmanned lunar exploration had emerged by the beginning of 2012. Although launch dates of the upcoming missions had to be delayed in order to learn the lessons of Phobos-Grunt, the unmanned lunar exploration program received a priority among planetary missions. Relative proximity of the Moon could enable Russian engineers to regain experience in navigating deep-space missions and rebuilt Soviet potential in planetary landing. A total of five launches were now planned, with an ultimate goal of delivering samples of the lunar soil back to Earth following a decade-long effort. The original Luna-Glob mission was split into a landing mission and an orbiter.


Russian Moon missions face three-year delay in 2014

Unmanned lunar missions designed to revive Russia's troubled deep-space exploration program will lift off three years later than previously promised. An official announcement of the nation's space science program at a major scientific summit in Moscow revealed significantly delayed launch dates for a trio of lunar probes.

During the 40th assembly of the Committee on Space Research, COSPAR, opened in Moscow on Saturday, Lev Zeleny, the director of the Space Research Institute, IKI, revealed latest schedule for the Russian planetary exploration and space science program. Although all previously approved projects still remain on the table, the nation's series of lunar missions face a domino effect of delays.

 


    Writing and photography by Anatoly Zak

    All rights reserved

    Last update: August 5, 2014