Monday, August 31, 2015

Russia Aims to Return to the Moon

A model of the Luna 25 probe being exhibited for visitors to the MAKS-2015 International Air Show in Moscow. Photo Credit: Gazeta.ru

Thirty-nine years ago, on Aug. 18, 1976, the Soviet Union successfully soft-landed its last spacecraft on the moon - Luna 24. For 37 years, until the lunar landing of Chinese Chang'e 3 probe in December 2013, it was also the last manmade object to soft-land on the moon’s surface. Now, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) plans to continue the legacy of the successful Luna Program by reviving the idea of unmanned lunar landers.

The Russian Space Research Institute (IKI) has recently revealed the details of the upcoming Luna 25 (also known as Luna-Glob lander) mission which is being developed by the institute. The spacecraft is planned to give Russia's researchers the opportunity to explore the moon's surface in depth. It should land in the vicinity of lunar South pole and analyze lunar regolith samples in-situ.

Most of the instruments for the spacecraft, are being made at the IKI; a life-sized model of the probe is currently being exhibited for visitors to the International Air Show in the Moscow suburb of Zhukovsky.

The probe is slated will land in the Boguslavsky crater, near the moon's South Pole, where its four television cameras will take footage of the area. Another two cameras will observe the work of the probe's digging tool and a further two will assist it so that it might move around safely.

The spacecraft will be equipped with a radioisotope thermoelectric generator, to survive the harsh nighttime conditions on the moon. The generator will provide power by converting the heat generated by the decay of the plutonium-238 isotope into electricity.

"This mission is a scientific-technological one. We want to carry out scientific experiments there, but this is a technological mission in the sense that we need to return to the moon, learn how to land, and survive the lunar night, since a lot of what was achieved in the 1970's has been forgotten," said Vladislav Tretyakov, a researcher in nuclear planetology at the IKI.

The Luna 25 mission will include instrument that will carry out scientific research on the lunar surface and deliver detailed data about the moon’s composition. IKI-made instruments like LIS-TV-RPM, that will provide infrared spectrometry of minerals and PmL, responsible for studying the lunar dust and micrometeorites, will be supported by tools developed in collaboration with universities in Sweden and Switzerland. 

The probe will also feature the ADRON-LR instrument that will make active neutron and gamma-ray analysis of regolith. Another significant payload, ARIES-L, will measure the moon’s exosphere plasma.

The mission is included in the next Federal Space program of Russia for 2016–2025. The launch of the Luna 25 spacecraft is currently planned for 2024.

The continuation of the Luna program could be the beginning of Russian plans to establish a lunar base somewhere in 2030s. The proposed base would include a solar power station, telecommunication station, technological station, scientific station, long-range research rover, landing and launch area, and an orbiting satellite.

IKI was founded in 1965 under the auspices of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, and is now part of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

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