The Luna-Glob 0rbiter mission (Luna-26)
The Luna-26 mission, originally known as Luna-Glob-2 and Luna-Resurs orbiter, was designed to deploy a large scientific spacecraft in the orbit around the Moon.
The Luna-Glob orbiter as it was envisioned at the end of 2011. Credit: Roskosmos/IK
On Nov. 17, 2011, the Space Council within the Russian Academy of Sciences, RAN, formally confirmed that Luna-Glob and Luna-Resurs missions had to be split into separate landing and orbiting missions. However despite a common sense of launching an orbiter ahead of the lander, Russian planners had to go with the landing mission first. According to industry sources, by 2012, the propulsion system and tank structure for the Luna-Resurs mission already appeared in metal, along with a number of other components of the lander. However in the process of its development, the Luna-Resurs lander gained weight, taking it beyond the capabilities of the Indian GSLV-2 rocket that was suppose to launch it along with an Indian-built orbiter. As a result, it was decided to complete the landing vehicle under the name Luna-Glob lander (a.k.a. Luna-Glob-1 or Luna-25) and launch it separately on the Soyuz-2/Fregat rocket in November 2015 or in the summer of 2016. (598)
Scenario of the Luna-Glob orbiter mission, as it was envisioned at the end of 2011. Credit: Roskosmos/IK
Following a lander, another Soyuz-2 rocket would launch an orbiting mission toward the Moon in 2016. The space strategy document released by Roskosmos in June 2013, listed the Luna-Glob orbiter as scheduled for launch in the fourth quarter of 2016, even though industry sources had already confirmed that the mission would likely slip to 2017.
The spacecraft apparently had its own "weight" problems, ruling out its planned launch in tandem with a Luna-Glob lander. As an added benefit of the solo launch, the 2,100-kilogram orbiter could now carry more propellant, which would afford its maneuvering to a lower orbit for more detailed scientific research than previously planned. As of 2012, a mass of scientific payload onboard Luna-Glob orbiter was expected to reach 160 kilograms. Many instruments would be borrowed from previous missions, however the main LORD radar experiment would be developed specifically for the mission.
Onboard research would be focused on several disciplines:
Lunar surface science:
Studies of Moon's vicinity:
In June 2013, the head of NPO Lavochkin Viktor Khartov told the ITAR-TASS news agency that in addition to its scientific role, the Luna-Glob orbiter (a.k.a. Luna-26) would also play a role of a communications relay station between the Earth and its "sister" lander. Obviously, if its launch date, (which Khartov quoted as 2016 or 2017), would remain the same, along with the launch order, the orbiter would only be in place to relay signals for Luna-Resurs, but not for Luna-Glob lander, at least in the first phase of its mission. Moreover, in October 2013, the Deputy Designer General at NPO Lavochkin Maksim Martynov told RIA Novosti news agency that Luna-Glob orbiter had been recently dropped from the Federal Space Program (which covered the period from 2006 to 2015), but it could be reinstated in 2014, when the next 10-year program would be drafted. (At the time, the project did not go beyond blueprints and several mockups, Martynov said.)
Indeed in 2014, Roskosmos drafted the new Federal Space program, which would extend from 2016 to 2025. The document apparently included not one but two unmanned orbiting missions, even though their launch dates had now been pushed to 2021 and 2023. The second orbiting mission probably aimed to ensure that at least one such spacecraft would be available in the orbit around the Moon to act as a communications relay station for the Luna-Resurs lander and the Luna-Grunt sample return mission, during their critical approach and descent to the lunar surface now planned in 2023 and 2025 respectively.
In October 2013, the TASS news agency quoted Deputy Designer General at NPO Lavochkin Maksim Martynov promising the launch of Luna-Glob orbiter in 2018. However, Martynov admitted that the (real development) work on the spacecraft was not expected to start until 2015.
In November 2021, the Space Research Institute, IKI, announced that it had manufactured thermal and mass prototypes of the gamma and neitron spectrometer, LGNS, for the global mapping of the lunar surface during the Luna-26 mission, but the flight version of the instrument was too early to manufacture, according to Igor Mitrofanov, the head of nuclear planetology at IKI, quoted by TASS. According to official pronouncements made in 2021, the launch of the Luna-26 mission was scheduled for 2024, however, in September 2022, Igor Mitrofanov, the Head of the Nuclear Planetology Department at the Space Research Institute, IKI, in Moscow admitted that the mission would likely need additional two years for preparation (beyond 2024).
On the heels of the successful launch of the Luna-Glob (Luna-25) mission on Aug. 11, 2023, Head of Roskosmos Yuri Borisov said that the launch of Luna-26 was then planned for 2027, followed by Luna-27 (Luna-Resurs Lander) in 2028 and by Luna-28 (Luna-Grunt) in 2030 or later. Even these dates had to be considered very optimistic given the need for a complete overhaul of these projects in order to replace imported components and instruments, not to mention funding levels in the program. The updated robotic lunar exploration strategy, unveiled in October 2023, showed plans for the launch of the second lunar orbiter around 2031 to support prospective missions in the first half of the 2030s.
Scientific instruments proposed for the Luna-Glob orbiter as of 2012 (598):
A scale model of the Luna-Glob spacecraft, which NPO Lavochkin demonstrated at various aerospace shows during 2008 and 2009. At the time, Luna-Glob was to be the first Russian spacecraft heading to the Moon since the mid-1970s until it was superseded by the Russian-Indian Luna-Resurs project in 2009-2010. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak
A depiction of the Luna-Glob orbiter circa 2010. Credit: IKI
A Luna-Glob orbiter under a payload fairing of the Soyuz-2/Fregat rocket, as it was envisioned in 2012. Credit: Roskosmos
The Luna-Glob orbiter as of 2012. Credit: IKI
A scale model of Luna-Glob orbiter presented at the Paris Air and Space Show in Le Bourget in June 2013. Copyright © 2013 Claude Mourier
A solar panel structure developed at ONPP Tekhnologia for the Luna-Glob project.
A depiction of the Luna-Glob orbiter (Luna-26) circa 2017.
A depiction of the Luna-26 orbiter circa 2023. Click to enlarge. Credit: NPO Lavochkin
One of the first views of the Luna-Glob (Luna-26) orbiter (right) appeared on a photo of the Luna-Glob lander taken at NPO Lavochkin on July 5, 2023. Click to enlarge. Credit: NPO Lavochkin