Monday, January 28, 2013

A Russian Moon?

Another design for renewing Russia's groundbreaking program of robotic lunar exploration is set aside. Above is a 2008 notional concept of the Roscosmos Luna-Glob orbiter, equipped with penetrators and supporting both a lander and an ISRO-built rover, part of a highly anticipated international mission recently abandoned. Under the Soviet regime Russia pioneered and brought to an end exploration of the Moon's surface [IKI/Lavochkin].
Dwayne Day
The Space Review

Earlier this month the Russian government announced that it plans to launch a lunar orbiter in 2015, followed by a lander a year later, both of them designated Luna-Glob. This is the latest version of what has been a rather convoluted series of Russian announcements about their planetary exploration plans, particularly with regards to the Moon. Previous plans had involved launching the orbiter and lander together, then changed to launch the lander a year before the orbiter. Now the Russians have switched the order. This is a more logical plan than previous ones, and at least to outsiders it appears as if the Russians are starting to develop a more sensible sequence of planetary science missions, as well as mission goals, than they have in the past. It’s something we should hope for, as the Russians could possibly by the most active nation conducting lunar exploration in the next decade.

Although they have experience with landing robotic craft on the Moon, launching a Moon orbiter before a lander is a better approach for the Russians because they need to re-learn how to walk before they can start to run. In late 2011 they suffered an embarrassing failure of their overly-ambitious Fobos-Grunt mission. The spacecraft fell silent almost immediately after launch, circled the Earth for a few weeks, and finally reentered. Many independent observers had predicted that Fobos-Grunt would fail because it was too complicated for a space program that had not built a planetary spacecraft in over a decade and a half (see “Red moon around a red planet,” The Space Review, November 7, 2011). The only real surprise was that the spacecraft failed so early, probably a sign that Russian quality control and systems engineering are both in bad shape, something that has been reinforced by a series of launch vehicle problems. Russian planetary science plans in recent years appeared to experience the “Christmas Tree” problem that American robotic spacecraft suffered from in the 1980s. This is where a mission gets more and more complex as scientists add more instruments, increasing the cost and the risk that something will go wrong. Fobos-Grunt had this problem in spades and some Russian lunar missions appeared to be succumbing to it as well. A single mission including an orbiter, lander, and rover, some of them from different countries, is very hard to integrate, but until recently such a mission was in Russian lunar plans.

Read the full article at The Space Review, HERE.

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