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Russian Lunar Polar Probes, 2015-2020

The last Russian probe to the Moon was Luna 24, which returned a 176 gram sample to Earth, in 1976.

The Russians are finally planning to return, with Luna 25 scheduled for 2015. The plans are currently as follows:

  • Luna 25 planned for 2015, also known as the Luna Glob Lander, would land on the south pole of the Moon, mainly just to test the lander technology and communications systems, with anything in addition being a bonus.

  • Luna 26 planned for 2016, also known as the Luna Glob Orbiter, would be an orbiter to at 100 km to do detailed mapping and look for a landing site for future missions, as well as measure the extremely thin lunar atmosphere.

  • Luna 27 planned for 2017, also known as Lunar Resource-1, would be a large lander going to the south pole to test drilling systems and analyze contents.

    If all goes well, then another two missions are on the drawing board:

  • Luna 28 planned for 2019, also known as Lunar Resource-2, would return samples to Earth, keeping them extremely cold during transit.

  • Luna 29 planned for 2020, also known as Lunar Resource-3, would land a rover which will drive long distances to sample different locations. The rover is often referred to by the traditional name Lunokhod (see history below).

These may be followed up on by manned missions.

From these sources, there is a lack of indication of the Russians intending to set up permanent colonies on the Moon or develop major manufacturing in space, and Russian officials still talk of a manned mission to Mars being the ultimate objective, unfortunately.

A bit of history:

The Soviets were the first to go to the Moon with unmanned probes, and the last in 1976 to soft land a spacecraft on the surface (as of the time of this writing in 2012). The Russians were the first to do many things in the 1959-1966 period, including the following:

  • In 1959, Luna 1 was the first lunar flyby by a man made object.
  • In 1959, Luna 2 was the first man made object on the Moon, albeit an impact.
  • In 1959, Luna 3 took the first photos of the far side of the Moon.
  • In 1966, Luna 9 was the first object to soft land on the Moon, and also the first to take photos from the surface.
  • In 1966, Luna 10 was the first man made object to go into orbit around the Moon.

However, the Russians never sent astronauts, as they "lost the space race" to the Americans when Apollo 11 landed men on the Moon in 1969 and returned samples to Earth.

The first Soviet attempts in 1969 to robotically return lunar samples failed, including before Apollo 11 was launched (and a later rush attempt crashed on the Moon while the Apollo 11 men were there).

Nevertheless, the Russians did have three successful robotic sample return missions starting in 1970, which were Luna 16, Luna 20, and Luna 24, and also deployed two robotic vehicles to drive around exploring the Moon, Luna 17 and Luna 21, which deployed the Lunokhod 1 and Lunokhod 2 rovers.

That was all in the era of the Soviet Union when they were competitors with the United States.

It has yet to be seen how committed and successful the Russians will be in the next decade, and how much of the work will be in cooperation with other governments or multinationals rather than nationalistic strategic competition.

The above plans have multiple sources which corraborate each other fairly well, as the Russians are a lot more open now. > Lunar Resources (Mining The Moon) > Probes, History and Future > Russian Luna 25-29, 2015-2020

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