Russia Will Launch Wave of Robotic Lunar Missions From 2015 Onwards

First Posted: Apr 03, 2013 12:39 PM EDT

A Russian space representative explained details of Russia's lunar program at a meeting in the U.S., which will already begin in 2 years and consist of 5 separate missions involving landers, drilling, cryogenic sample return and a long-range rover. Igor Mitrofanov of the Institute for Space Research (IKI) in Moscow outlined the program at a symposium in Texas in a presentation named "Lunar Farside and Poles - New Destinations for Exploration." The microsymposium was co-sponsored by the NASA Luna Science Institute, Brown University, Russia's Vernadsky Institute and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The last time Russia ventured to the moon was in August 1976, when it launched Luna 24. It was the final mission in the Luna series and involved a spacecraft landing on the moon and returning samples of the Mare Crisium (Sea of Crisis) region. Accomplishments of the former Soviet Union's program include the first lunar orbiter, the first flyby and photograph of the moon, the first soft landing and the first moon rover Lunokhod. Now Russia has come up with a new initiative.

"Exploration of the moon is an important part of the program," Mitrofanov said. "I just want to emphasize that Russia is a space faring country not only with the robotic but also manned flight."

The program that Mitrofanov discussed at the symposium listed these five separate missions:

     Luna 25 (2015): A small craft would land on the moon's south pole, testing its technology and analyzing conditions.

     Luna 26 (2016): A craft would orbit the moon and map the lunar surface, measuring the exosphere and looking for potential landing sites.

     Luna 27 (2017): A large lander to study rocks and perform drilling tests.

     Luna 28 (2019): A TBD mission to bring back lunar samples through cryogenic freezing.

     Luna 29 (2020): A long-distance rover to explore the surface.

Manned missions could follow the robotic explorations, according to Mitrofanov. NASA itself, which is currently readying the Orion spaceship able to again carry astronauts to the moon, has welcomed the plan. China also has an ambitious moon program, while private companies are planning missions and trips as well -- will it get crowded up there?

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