Luna-Resurs (Luna-27) lander
In the 2010s, the Luna-Resurs project was reconfigured for cooperation with the European Space Agency, ESA, instead of India. Then the escalation of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in 2022, left Luna-Resurs without international partners.
A scale model of the Luna-Resurs lander (right) next to the Luna-Glob lander.
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. In the meantime, in April 2012, Indian Space Agency announced that Luna-Resurs would not fly until its GSLV rocket logs two successful missions beginning in September-October 2012.
The landing component of the former Luna-Glob mission was rescheduled to fly in 2017 under the name of Luna-Resurs. It was expected to have an increased payload capacity than Luna-Glob-1, sport improved landing gear and carry more propellant and a larger array of scientific instruments than its predecessor in 2015.
The 2,200-kilogram spacecraft could still deliver a small Indian-built rover (with a mass of around 15 kilograms) to the surface as a part of the 200-kilogram scientific payload. However after the loss of Phobos-Grunt and the postponement of the lunar plans, India essentially suspended its participation in the program. As a result, by the end of 2013, NPO Lavochkin considered a possibility of replacing the Indian rover with a relatively simple moving vehicle, possibly developed by students at the Bauman MGTU, a leading school preparing cadre for the Russian rocket and space industry. The rover could have a task of imaging and delivery of soil samples during the mission.
Luna-Resurs could also carry a European-built optical navigation and a hazard-avoidance system. The lander was expected to operate on the surface for at least a year.
The most important part of the scientific gear on the Luna-Resurs would be a state-of-the-art surface drill, capable of penetrating lunar regolith up to a depth of two meters in a quest for lunar ice. To include a European-built drill adapted from the ExoMars-2018 mission, the Ministerial Council of the European Space Agency, ESA, was initially expected to approve the continent's participation in the Luna-Resurs project during its meeting in the fall of 2014.
However by October 2013, the launch of the Luna-Resurs mission was postponed from the 2017-2018 period to 2019. In October 2014, the TASS news agency quoted Deputy Designer General at NPO Lavochkin Maksim Martynov promising the launch of Luna-Resurs lander in 2019, even though other reports during the same year pushed a possible launch date to 2023.
Martynov also confirmed that the probe's high-accuracy landing system and its "cryogenic" drill designed to preserve the thermal conditions of samples, would have to be contributed by Europe. According to Martynov, an inter-agency agreement on the mission between ESA and Roskosmos was undergoing a government review.
The drill system and associated laboratory equipment received an official designation the Package for Resource Observation and in-Situ Prospecting in support of Exploration, Commercial exploitation and Transportation, or PROSPECT.
Along with the PILOT navigation system, the PROSPECT was being developed by ESA’s Directorate of Human and Robotic Exploration. The Italian company Leonardo, led the development of the drill system, while the Open University was responsible for the chemical analysis laboratory associated with the instrument.
Both systems were submitted to ESA’s Council of European Ministers meeting in December 2016 and were approved for development.
On April 13, 2022, ESA announced that it had ended its cooperation with Russia on Luna-25, Luna-26 and Luna-27 missions, as a response to the Russian aggression in Ukraine. As a result, ESA arranged the flight of the PROSPECT drill on NASA-led Commercial Lunar Payload Services, CLIPS, mission.
Searching for water with Luna-Resurs
Even with the best locations, the success in pinpointing lunar water was not guaranteed. The resolution of the LEND is around 5-10 kilometers and the distribution of the ice could resemble Swiss cheese, with many holes probably invisible to the sensor, Basilevsky explained. “Luna-Resurs could still end up in a “hole,” but we hope it will not.”
Upon its successful landing, Luna-Resurs would release a 15-kilogram Indian rover. Even though its role is mostly political, the small machine is expected to carry up to two kilograms of scientific gear. It could be used to collect soil samples as far as dozens of meters away and carry them back to the lander for analysis by onboard instruments. Cameras onboard both rover and the lander would constantly monitor the operations of both vehicles. (434)
According to the agency, a drill designed to penetrate from one to two meters into the lunar surface was envisaged by ESA to fly to the Moon’s south pole on Russia’s Luna-27 lander.
"It is an essential part of a science and exploration package being developed to reach, extract and analyze samples from beneath the surface in the Moon’s south polar region," explains lunar exploration systems engineer Richard Fisackerly.
"This region is of great interest to lunar researchers and explorers because the low angle of the Sun over the horizon leads to areas of partial or even complete shadow. These shadowed areas and permanently dark crater floors, where sunlight never reaches, are believed to hide water ice and other frozen volatiles."
The drill would first penetrate into the frozen "regolith" and then deliver the samples to a chemical laboratory, which was being developed by the UK's Open University.
The drill system plus laboratory were collectively known as Prospect for the Platform for Resource Observation and in-Situ Prospecting in support of Exploration, Commercial exploitation and Transportation.
Prospect was one of the packages being developed by ESA for flight to the Moon as part of cooperation on Russia’s lunar program along with the PILOT landing system.
LEIA (LIDAR for Extra- terrestrial Imaging Applications)
Neptec’s LEIA was being developed by a team of engineers at Neptec UK’s offices and laboratory at Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire.
LEIA was to be Neptec’s first LiDAR qualified for operation in high Earth orbit. LEIA will feature low mass and volume and a range of 1,500 metres. It is a critical component of ESA’s autonomous landing navigation system and will be integrated with the lander. During descent there will be two re-targeting opportunities during which the LIDAR will direct a pulsed laser beam towards the surface and measure the time of flight of the reflected light. This, along with the scanning system that will compensate for the lander’s motion, will allow 3D mapping of the target landing area, even in the absence of illumination or under changing light conditions.
The hazard detection and avoidance software on board will use this data to locate a suitable landing area on the South Pole of the Moon, avoiding uneven terrain and obstacles. When it is safely on the surface the PROSPECT payload will be commissioned and will collect and analyse samples on the lunar surface.
Luna-27 might be postponed indefinitely
According to official pronouncements made in 2021, the launch of the Luna-27 mission was scheduled for 2025, however, in September 2022, Igor Mitrofanov, the Head of the Nuclear Planetology Department at the Space Research Institute, IKI, in Moscow admitted that the mission would likely need additional two years for the replacement of imported components, due to sanctions imposed by the West after the escalation of the war in Ukraine.
In July 2023, Mitrofanov added that the work on the Russian drill to replace the European original had been in the design documentation development phase and the active effort had been under way to replace other foreign components of the mission. At the time, the launch of the Luna-27 lander was officially scheduled for 2028.
Science instruments proposed for lunar landing missions in 2015 and 2017, as of 2012 (598):
Design of the Luna-Resurs lander as of 2012. At the time, it was expected to reach the Moon in 2017. Credit: Roskosmos
Luna-Resurs descends to the lunar surface as depicted around 2016. Credit: NPO Lavochkin
As of 2012, Luna-Resurs was expected to feature a soil-drilling device (red) and a robotic arm (green) capable of loading samples into an onboard chemical analysis lab. Credit: IKI
A depiction of the Luna-Resurs lander circa 2010. Credit: NPO Lavochkin
A depiction of the Luna-Resurs lander circa 2012. Credit: IKI
As late as 2013, a small rover was apparently considered for inclusion into the Luna-Resurs mission. Credit: Roskosmos
A depiction of the Luna-Resurs lander circa 2016. Credit: IKI
A depiction of the Luna-Resurs lander circa 2017. Credit: IKI
In May 2016, ESA released an image of a drill, which was developed by Finmeccanica, for the Luna-Resurs lander. Click to enlarge. Credit: ESA
Luna-Resurs (Luna-27) lander as of 2023. Click to enlarge. Credit: NPO Lavochkin