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Russian lunar program: redesign in progress

The latent disorder and defects of the Russian space program came abruptly in the limelight after the loss of the Phobos-Grunt probe. Though the first reactions stated that the failure of the Martian probe wouldn't affect the lunar program, the odds were against that. After a good six months, the redesigned program starts to take shape, with more careful missions and launch dates shifted to the right with a few years (again).

Sketches of the first three missions, as of April, 2012.

Though the schedule is still forming, it seems that the Luna-Glob mission, originally planned as the first mission but later swapped with the Russian-Indian Luna-Resurs/Chandrayaan-2 project, gets priority again and returns to the top of the list, to no earlier than 2015. The main goal is to perform a flawless soft landing, science will be inferior to the engineering and technology challenges. The Luna-Glob orbiter will also be transformed into an independent mission, arriving a year later and equipped with plenty of scientific instruments. Luna-Resurs-1, carrying the small Indian rover to the surface will be delayed to 2017.

The revised program from early 2012 - which is partly obsolete already. The first five missions will be launched with a Soyuz rocket, however Luna-Grunt-2 will feature a new cruise stage to increase the available payload mass and will need a larger Proton rocket instead.

A new mission will also be included into the program: Luna-Resurs-2 will deliver a larger Russian rover to the surface around 2018. One of the Resurs landers will possibly carry a drill too to take and analyse soil samples but it isn't clear yet which one (or if both). This mission will be practically a rehearsal: not jut the Russian rover technology but a new “adaptive” landing mode will be tested as well, using a radio beacon to guide the probe to the landing site. Both units will be crucial for the following missions: the Luna-Grunt-1 and -2 pair will collect and return samples in the early twenties, according to the plans. The first probe will deploy a long-range rover to collect, analyse and store samples. Luna-Grunt-2 will then land in the vicinity using the radio beacon, where the rover will upload the samples into the return stage which will bring them back to the Earth.

Depiction of the new Russian rover arriving to the Moon. Lunokhod-1 was launched in 1970 - one wonders if the return will happen before the 50-year anniversary...

This officially leaves China as the only nation who could send a government-sponsored lander to the surface of the Moon before 2015. The breaks are once again pulled for the Russian planetary science program, though better safe than sorry, based the Phobos-Grunt experience.


László Molnár

Image sources and credit:

1.) 4.) NPO Lavochkin / russianspaceweb.com

2.) 3.) Anatoly Zak (russianspaceweb.com)

Last Updated (Monday, 16 April 2012 08:23)

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