Luna-Glob's stop and go
In 2017, Russia's pathfinder mission to the lunar surface continued crawling through the development process, transitioning from blueprints and mockups to flight-worthy components. But limited resources and other priorities kept the launch date for the Luna-Glob clouded in uncertainty.
Exterior design of the Luna-Glob lander as of 2017.
Building the testing ground
In August 2016, NPO Lavochkin, the prime contractor in the Luna-Glob project, reported that the company had completed the construction of a unique facility for simulating the soft landing on the surface of the Moon. The special rig included a movable platform filled with simulated lunar regolith and a crane designed to lower a prototype of the lander onto the "surface." The facility was designed to test the stability of the spacecraft on the surface and to measure accelerations impacting the vehicle. The tests would also help optimize the mass of the landing gear and perfect its shock-absorbing features. Moreover, the ability to interchange surface on the platform might eventually allow more accurate representations of the lunar surface or that of other planets.
Blueprints and software for the control of the lunar surface simulator were developed at NPO Lavochkin's division in the city of Kaluga, while the company's own Shops No. 381, 330, 343 and 115 manufactured the hardware for the facility. Shop No. 381, built three mockups representing the Luna-Glob, Luna-Resurs and Luna-Grunt landers, which would be tested on the lunar surface stand.
As of August 2016, Lavochkin promised to begin drop tests on the stand in the first quarter of 2017. (823)
In the first half of 2017, NPO Lavochkin also reported the completion of a stand for flow tests of the propellant system and the facility for weightless tests of the landing dynamics.
Spacecraft manufacturing begins
According to the Deputy Director for Production at NPO Lavochkin A. P. Tyutyunnikov, in the fourth quarter of 2016, the company's manufacturing plant began receiving documentation for the Luna-Glob mission, allowing it to start the production of components for the spacecraft.
By the end of January 2017, Lavochkin said that the propulsion system for the lunar lander had been in assembly, along with support systems for the antenna feeder and the holding truss for the onboard equipment of the Luna-Glob lander. (824)
The chief engineer at Lavochkin was also quoted as saying that a loads simulator for the spacecraft was in assembly.
In April 2017, the Head of NPO Lavochkin Sergei Lemeshevsky confirmed that Europe would provide high-resolution cameras intended to document the landing of the Luna-Glob spacecraft. However, the visual data from the cameras will not be analyzed by the flight control system in real time to augment its operation during landing of the Luna-Glob, as had been considered earlier. Instead, the process will be tested during the decent of Luna-Glob for a possible practical use during the subsequent landing of the Luna-Resurs spacecraft, Lemeshevsky said. (825)
Development and launch status
In May, NPO Lavochkin revealed that the Luna-Glob faced a deficit in mass and power, but according to the company, the project team had a roadmap for how to resolve the problem on both fronts. On the plus side, the company also said that all the contracts for the Luna-Glob project had been signed and the manufacturing (of the spacecraft components) was proceeding at full swing.
At the time, a development mockup of the lander was in the final stage of assembly and another prototype for thermal tests was also being prepared. In fact, on August 18, Roskosmos announced that it had formally accepted the development mockup of the lunar lander built during the 3.5-year-long development phase of the Luna-Glob project.
In the meantime, on July 29, NPO Lavochkin said it had completed the 7th phase of the Luna-Glob development project, while catching up with a potentially lagging schedule during that phase. (826)
At the time, the launch of the spacecraft was still promised at the end of 2019 from Vostochny. (825) However in the course of 2017, the mission moved back to Baikonur, probably in order to cut costs for building new processing facilities for the spacecraft in Vostochny.
Moreover, industry sources said that the launch date for Luna-Glob would most likely slip beyond 2019. Counting the fact, that NPO Lavochkin was the main Russian contractor on the ExoMars rover mission, then scheduled for launch in 2020 and enjoying the highest priority as an international project, the chances for Luna-Glob to fly within the same time frame were probably slim to none.
In the meantime, the lander's already constrained scientific payload saw a likely fallout from the increasing mass deficit in the Luna-Glob project. On October 31, the Space Council of the Academy of Sciences officially dropped the Termo-L instrument from the mission. Developed at Vernadsky GEOKhI institute in Moscow, the Termo-L sensor would be lowered from the lander and press a miniature heater against the lunar surface to study the thermal conducting properties of the lunar regolith.
Unfortunately, the latest tests at GEOKhI's lab revealed the need for considerable upgrades in the instrument, which would increase its mass beyond the limits imposed on the scientific payloads of the mission. As a result, the experiment was bumped to the follow-on Luna-Resurs lander.
Key dates in the Luna-Glob project:
2010 Dec. 28: Roskosmos issues State Contract No. 361-5420/10 for the Luna-Glob research and development project, OKR, to NPO Lavochkin.
2011 Sept. 14: Roskosmos issues State Contract No. 361-9870/11 for the Luna-Resurs research and development project, OKR, to NPO Lavochkin.
2012 Dec. 21: Roskosmos issues State Contract No. 361-5420/12 for the Luna-Glob research and development project, OKR, to NPO Lavochkin.
2013 March 14: Roskosmos and the European Space Agency, ESA, sign an agreement on cooperation in the exploration of Mars and other bodies of the solar system with robotic spacecraft.
2013 Dec. 24: Roskosmos issues State Contract No. 361-9009/13/445 for the Luna-Resurs-1 research and development project, OKR, to NPO Lavochkin.
2014 May 8: Section 8 of the Scientific and Technical Council at Roskosmos reviews the results of Addendum No. 2 to the experimental project, DEP No. 2, of the Luna-Glob research and development project, OKR.
2014 Oct. 9: Roskosmos issues Decision No. ON-300-r on the organization of the flight control of the spacecraft for fundamental scientific research.
2015 Aug. 26: Roskosmos and ESA exchange letters on the initial phase in the exploration of the Moon.
2015 Aug. 28: Roskosmos issues Decision No. MKh-316-r on revision of the implementation of the Luna Glob research and development project.
Known specifications of the Luna-Glob lander circa 2017:
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A test facility for testing soft-landing on the Moon was completed at NPO Lavochkin around 2016. Credit: NPO Lavochkin
A mass prototype built for testing of the Luna-Glob landing. Click to enlarge. Credit: NPO Lavochkin
Click to enlage. Credit: Rossiya TV
Click to enlage. Credit: Rossiya TV
In December, Russian TV released footage of drop tests at the lunar simulation facility. Click to enlage. Credit: Rossiya TV
A demo version of the Luna-Glob lander as of 2016. Click to enlarge. Credit: NPO Lavochkin
Head of NPO Lavochkin Sergei Lemeshevsky (left) and Head of Department of Business Systems at Roskosmos E.A. Matveev discuss the Luna Glob project in the summer of 2017. Credit: NPO Lavochkin