First Launch in Russia's Lunar Base Project to Start 2015

First Posted: Jan 15, 2013 05:05 PM EST

Russia will start to build a robotic lunar base and plans to launch the first in a series of missions to the moon in 2015. Vladimir Popovkin, chief of Russia's Federal Space Agency Roscosmos, said on Tuesday that Luna-Glob will lift off from the Vostochny space port in Russia's Far East after several test launches, writes RIA Novosti.

Luna-Glob will be the first of four missions planned before the creation of a fully robotic lunar base scheduled for after 2015.

As a first step, it will be just an orbiter going to the moon, which will have a payload of 120 kilograms, and carry equipment for astrophysics experiments, dust monitors, and plasma sensors to study ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays.

The Moon exploration project is part of Russia's Space Program dating back to the late 1990s. It was put on hold due to financial restrictions and resurrected several years later. Initially scheduled for launch in 2012, the mission has been postponed twice already.

This past August Roscosmos also announced a ten-million ruble ($300,000) tender to develop a concept for a heavy rocket carrier that would be capable of carrying manned spacecraft to the moon. The project is to be completed by May 31, 2013.

Popovkin previously said the country's planned manned spacecraft capable of flights to the moon will not fly until 2018.

Russia's space program suffered a slew of setbacks in recent years, most of them blamed on faulty hardware. The most recent mishap took place last December, when a botched launch of the Yamal-402 telecoms satellite led to the depletion of its fuel supply, shortening its orbit lifetime.

In November 2011, Russia launched the Phobos-Grunt probe, its most ambitious planetary mission in decades, designed to bring back rock and soil samples from the Martian moon Phobos. However, the probe got stuck in Earth's orbit after its engines failed to put it on course for the Red Planet. The doomed probe crashed in the Pacific Ocean last January after two months in orbit.

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