Russia to Launch 5 Lunar Probes Between 2015 and 2022

Luna-Glob spacecraft (Credits:)

Luna-Glob spacecraft, the first of five unmanned spacecrafts to the Moon (Credits: NPO lavochkin).

According to the Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti, Russia’s space research program in the coming decades will be driven by landing planetary missions.

“We’ve found our direction, our niche,” said the director of the Institute of Space Research at the Russian Academy of Sciences Lev Zelyony.

Russia’s plan consists of sending a succession of five unmanned probes to the Moon between 2015 and 2022.  The last probe in the series would be set to retrieve samples of lunar soil.  The first probe was originally to be called Luna-Glob-1, but the name is supposed to change to Luna-25, showing a continuity with Soviet-era lunar missions, named Luna-1 through Luna-24.  The new plan for unmanned lunar exploration was revealed at the beginning of 2012, following the Phobos-Grunt fiasco in November 2011.  Advertised as an ambitious planetary landing mission, Luna-25 could also investigate the presence of water.  However, according to Anatoly Zak of who quoted multiple industry sources, work on Luna-Glob suffers from the doomed Phobos-Grunt’s legacy.

Phobos-Grunt, the only Russian deep-space mission in two decades, launched on November 9, 2011, headed to the Martian moon Phobos to retrieve a sample from the surface.  Unfortunately, the spacecraft failed to fire its engine for the planetary transfer, entering instead into safe mode.  Following numerous attempts at establishing communications conducted by different space agencies, the probe burned in the atmosphere on January 15, 2012.  The flight-control computer and its software developed by NPO Lavochkin were officially blamed for the failure.  That Russian firm then decided to adopt the flight-proven computer from the Russian GLONASS navigation satellite for Lunar-Glob instead of the computers developed for Phobos-Grunt that had been intended for other future planetary missions.  Such a move required massive development and testing to integrate the computers into the spacecraft, raising criticism among experts that the mission is, ironically, still headed towards the same end as Phobos-Grunt.

Russia’s other planned exploration missions include the joint Roscosmos-ESA development of  ExoMars.  Oleg Korablyov, Head of the planetary study department at the Institute of Space Research said that another ESA/Roscosmos joint project would be an unmanned probe to Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, expected to launch in 2023.

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