launch




2020




Luna-10








2017



Luna-Grunt in 2020


Luna-Grunt in 2020



Luna-29


 

 

 

Luna

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launch

Launch of a E1 probe.


Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak

Luna

A backup copy of the E1 spacecraft, which was the first to escape Earth gravity. Click to enlarge.


Luna

The E1A spacecraft. It differed from E1 by the position of the solar wind detectors. Those on the upper and lower hemisphere were at the same "longitude" on the E1 but 90 degrees apart on the E1A. The magnetometer boom was also different. Click to enlarge.


The backup copy of the E3 spacecraft, which was the first to swing around the Moon and to photograph its dark side.


E6

A likely photo of an early E6 spacecraft in Tyuratam in August 1962.


The E6 spacecraft. Click to enlarge: 300 by 400 pixels / 44 KB. Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak


The Luna-9 lander. Copyright © 2009, 2000 Anatoly Zak


The E6-S lunar-orbiting spacecraft in pr-launch configuration. Credit: NPO Lavochkin


E6-LF

The E6-LF lunar orbiter. Credit: NPO Lavochkin


The E8-5 lunar sample return spacecraft during prelaunch processing. Credit: NPO Lavochkin


The ascent stage of the E8-5 spacecraft, which delivered soil samples from the lunar surface back to Earth.


The reentry capsule of the E8-5 spacecraft in landing configuration.


Lunokhod

A full-scale prototype of the Lunokhod-1 rover, which landed on the surface of the Moon on Nov. 17, 1970. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak


Lunokhod

The Lunokhod-3, the unflown successor to the Lunokhod-1 and 2 rovers, which worked on the lunar surface. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2000 Anatoly Zak



Luna

The landing platform, which delivered automated lunar rovers on the surface of the Moon.


Luna

The artist rendering of the E8-5M lunar sample return spacecraft on the surface of the Moon. Credit: NPO Lavochkin


Luna-Glob

Luna-Glob would be the first Russian spacecraft heading to the Moon since mid-1970s. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

The Soviet E6 Luna lander during a cruise to the Moon.


The USSR pioneered the exploration of the Moon with a series of unmanned missions from 1958 to 1976. Below is a complete list of Soviet attempts to send robotic spacecraft to our natural satellite:

 
Launch date
Spacecraft
development
name*
Official name* Mission goal

Launcher/serial number

Comments
1 Sept. 23, 1958
E1 No. 1
-
Impact
8K72**/B1-3
The booster rocket failed at T+93 seconds
2 Oct. 12, 1958
E1 No. 2
-
Impact
8K72/B1-4
Booster exploded at T+104 seconds
3 Dec. 4, 1958
E1 No. 3
-
Impact
8K72/B1-5
Rocket booster failed at T+245.4 seconds
4 Jan. 2, 1959
E1 No. 4
Impact
8K72/B1-6
World's first spacecraft to escape Earth gravity. Missed the Moon
5 June 18, 1959
E1A No. 5
-
Impact
8K72/I1-7
Failed at T+153 sec. due to flight control problem. (84)
6 Sept. 12, 1959
E1A No. 7
Luna-2
Impact
8K72/I1-7B
World's first lunar impact
7 Oct. 4, 1959
E2A
Luna-3
Flyby
8K72/I1-8
First photo of the Moon's far side
8 April 15, 1960
E3 No. 1
-
Flyby
8K72/L1-9
3rd stage premature cutoff at T+729.37 seconds. The payload reached a 200,000-kilometer distance.
9 April 16, 1960
E3 No. 2
-
Flyby
8K72/L1-92
Failed at T+0.4 seconds and destroyed
10 Jan. 4, 1963
E6 No. 2
-
Lunar landing
8K78L/T-103-09
Stranded in the low Earth orbit
11

Feb. 3, 1963

E6 No. 3
-
Lunar landing
8K78L/G103-10
Failed to reach orbit at T+105.5 seconds
12 Apr. 2, 1963
E6 No. 4
Luna-4
Lunar landing
8K78L/G103-11
Missed the Moon by 8,500 kilometers
13 March 21, 1964
E6 No. 6
-
Lunar landing
8K78M/T15000-20
Failed to reach orbit
14 April 20, 1964
E6 No. 5
-
Lunar landing
8K78M/1-15000-21
Failed to reach orbit
15 March 12, 1965
E6 No. 9
Kosmos-60
Lunar landing
8K78L/R103-25
Failed to leave low Earth orbit
16 April 10, 1965
E6 No. 8
-
Lunar landing
8K78L/R103-26
Failed to reach Earth orbit
17 May 9, 1965
E6 No. 10
Luna-5
Lunar landing
8K78M/U103-30
Crashed into the Moon
18 June 8, 1965
E6 No. 7
Luna-6
Lunar landing
8K78M/U103-31
Missed the Moon by 160,000 kilometers
19 July 18, 1965
3MV-4 No. 3
Zond-3
Lunar flyby/Mars orbit vicinity
8K78
Photographed the Moon during a flyby
20 Oct. 4, 1965
E6 No. 11
Luna-7
Lunar landing
8K78/U103-27
Crashed into the Moon
21 Dec. 3, 1965
E6 No. 12
Luna-8
Lunar landing
8K78/U103-28
Crashed into lunar syrface during landing attempt on Dec. 7, 1965, at 00:51 Moscow Time.
22 Jan. 31, 1966
E6 No. 13/202
Lunar landing
8K87M/U103-32
World's first soft Moon landing
23 March 1, 1966
E6S No. 204
Lunar orbiter
8K78M/N103-41
Failed to leave Earth orbit
24 March 31, 1966
E6S No. 206
Lunar orbiter
8K78M/N103-42
First artificial satellite of the Moon; worked for 56 days
25 Aug. 24, 1966
E6LF No. 101
Luna-11
Lunar orbiter
8K78M/N103-43
Active in the Moon orbit for 38 days
26 Oct. 22, 1966
E6LF No. 102
Luna-12
Lunar orbiter
8K78M/N103-44
Active in the Moon orbit for 85 days
27 Dec. 21, 1966
E6M No. 205
Lunar landing
8K78M/N103-45
Soft-landed and studied the Moon
28 May 17, 1967
E6LS No. 111
Kosmos-159
Lunar orbiter
8K78/Ya716-56
The L3 project support
29 Feb. 7, 1968
E6LS No. 112
-
Lunar orbiter
8K78M
Failed to reach orbit
30 April 7, 1968
E6LS No. 113
Luna-14
Circumlunar
8K78M Ya716-58
Orbited the Moon
31 Feb. 19, 1969
E8 No. 201
-
Lunar rover
8K82K (UR-500K)
Failed to reach orbit
32 June 14, 1969
E8-5 No. 402
-
Sample return
UR-500K
Failed to reach orbit
33 July 13, 1969
E8-5 No. 401
Luna-15
Sample return
UR-500K
Crashed on lunar surface
34 Sept. 23, 1969
E8-5 No. 403
Kosmos-300
Sample return
UR-500K
Failed to leave Earth orbit
35 Oct. 22, 1969
E8-5 No. 404
Kosmos-305
Sample return
UR-500K
Failed to leave Earth orbit
36 Feb. 6, 1970
E8-5 No. 405
-
Sample return
UR-500K
Failed to reach orbit
37 Sept. 12, 1970
E8-5 No. 406
Luna-16
Sample return
UR-500K
First automatic lunar sample return
38 Nov. 10, 1970
E8 No. 203
Luna-17
Lunar rover
UR-500K
First rover on the Moon
39 Sept. 2, 1971
E8-5 No. 407
Luna-18
Sample return
UR-500K
Crashed into the lunar surface
40 Sept. 28, 1971
E8LS No. 408
Luna-19
Lunar orbiter
UR-500K
Orbited the Moon
41 Feb. 14, 1972
E8-5 No. 408
Luna-20
Sample return
UR-500K
Returned samples from the Moon
42 Jan. 8, 1973
E8 No. 204
Luna-21
Lunar rover
UR-500K
Landed and traveled on the Moon
43 May 29, 1974
E8LS No. 220
Luna-22
Lunar orbiter
UR-500K
Orbited the Moon
44 Oct. 28, 1974
E8-5M No. 410
Luna-23
Sample return
UR-500K
Damaged during Moon landing
45 Oct. 16, 1975
E8-5M No. 412
-
Sample return
8K82K (UR-500K)
Failed to reach orbit due to Block D failure
46 Aug. 9, 1976
E8-5M No. 413
Sample return
UR-500K
Returned lunar samples

*In the second column the table gives the name of the spacecraft as they were identified in the classified paperwork by their development centers, while the third column shows the name announced in the Soviet press. The missions which did not reach the orbit would not be acknowledged at all at the time. The spacecraft, which fail in low orbit would normally receive Cosmos name.

**An 8K72 launcher is sometimes identified as Lunnik or Luna, 8K78 is also known as the Molniya launcher, both are based on Korolev's R-7 ICBM. 8K82K (UR-500K) launcher is known today as Proton.

Note: This table includes missions conducted within Soviet L1 and N-1/L-3 projects. Although all of them flew unmanned, they tested hardware, which was developed with the goal of landing a man on the Moon.

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E6

Assembly of the E6 lunar probe circa 1963. Like many official buildings and institutions in the USSR, the facility features the "red corner" (on the left) featuring "Udarniki of the Communist Labor" (best workers list) adorned with a portrait of the USSR founder Vladimir Lenin, the hammer and sickle (symbol of the workers and peasants union in the class struggle) and... potted flowers!


Lunokhod

To mark the International Women's Day on March 8, operators of Lunokhod-1 drew an 8 with its wheels on the lunar surface in March 1971.


Post-Soviet developments

Although the USSR virtually abandoned lunar exploration with the end of the Moon race in mid-1970s, Russian scientists still saw the Moon as an interesting target for exploration. During the 1980s, a lunar polar orbiter, LSN (1L), was one of several space missions proposed for a new spacecraft platform developed at NPO Lavochkin. However, at the time, the lunar mission lost in priority to Mars-bound projects.

Multi-phased program

With the improvement of the Russian economy in the second post-Soviet decade, Russia started developing a multi-step program for the unmanned lunar exploration. According to that strategy, the first Luna-Glob lunar orbiter could be followed by a lander, which was initially known as Luna-Glob-2 and was later designated Luna-Resurs. A standard lander developed for the Luna-Resurs project could be reused for further missions to the Moon and beyond. Luna-Resurs was expected to be followed by the Luna-Grunt dual mission, which would carry a rover and the ascent stage to return lunar samples back to Earth. Hardware developed for Luna-Glob, Luna-Resurs and Luna-Grunt missions could ultimately be used to establish the so-called Lunny Poligon (Lunar Range), featuring a series of stationary and movable facilities on the surface of the Moon.

2012: New plans, launch dates emerge

Following the Phobos-Grunt fiasco in November 2011, a new Russian plan for unmanned lunar exploration had emerged by the beginning of 2012. Although launch dates of the upcoming missions had to be delayed in order to learn the lessons of Phobos-Grunt, the unmanned lunar exploration program received a priority among planetary missions. Relative proximity of the Moon could enable Russian engineers to regain experience in navigating deep-space missions and rebuilt Soviet potential in planetary landing. A total of five launches were now planned, with an ultimate goal of delivering samples of the lunar soil back to Earth following a decade-long effort. The original Luna-Glob mission was split into a landing mission and an orbiter.

2014: Russian Moon missions face three-year delay

By 2014, unmanned lunar missions designed to revive Russia's troubled deep-space exploration program were postponed three years beoynd originally advertised dates. An official announcement of the nation's space science program at a major scientific summit in Moscow revealed significantly delayed launch dates for a trio of lunar probes.

During the 40th assembly of the Committee on Space Research, COSPAR, in Moscow in August 2014, Lev Zeleny, the director of the Space Research Institute, IKI, revealed latest schedule for the Russian planetary exploration and space science program. Although all previously approved projects still remained on the table, the nation's series of lunar missions faced a domino effect of delays.

2019: Russia plans to reshape, extend its lunar robotic strategy

(INSIDER CONTENT)

With the start of the super-rocket program in Russia in 2018, the prime contractor in the development of Russian lunar probes drafted new long-term strategy for supporting human expeditions to the lunar surface. In the first week of July 2019, NPO Lavochkin presented its latest vision of the robotic lunar exploration program and outlined new mission concepts extending as far as two decades ahead.

Planning begins for Luna-29 mission

(INSIDER CONTENT)

Russian engineers at NPO Lavochkin began early formulation work on the concept of the heavy Luna-29 lander which is expected to follow four smaller robotic missions to the surface of the Moon. The effort is part of a wider plan to expand the Russian lunar exploration program and prepare human missions to our natural satellite. To that end, the new lander developed for the Luna-29 project could later serve as a platform for a cargo delivery system to the surface of the Moon.

2020: How sample return prepares human expeditions to the Moon

(INSIDER CONTENT)

In 2020, the Russian space industry continued the design of a multi-purpose lunar landing vehicle which was expected to start its flight career as a platform for a soil-sample return mission from the Moon, but later become a common carrier of cargo and even crews to the lunar surface. In the following two years, the developers advanced the project through numerous technical and organizational challenges.

2020: New Lunokhod is in the works for Luna-29

(INSIDER CONTENT)

Russian engineers recently began work on a large lunar rover mission rivaling the famous Soviet Lunokhod. As of 2020, the Luna-29 mission was expected to deliver a large wheeled laboratory to the surface of the Moon before the end of the decade. Like its pioneering predecessor, the new rover was conceived at the NPO Lavochkin design bureau.

2020: Russian lunar sample return mission (Luna-28) at the crossroad

(INSIDER CONTENT)

In its original concept, Luna-28 was a part of the Luna-Grunt robotic soil-sampling mission designed to return lunar regolith from the polar region of the Moon back to Earth for scientific analysis. However, in 2020, the project was given the overarching task of serving as pathfinder for human expeditions.

Luna-Grunt in 2021: Scientists push back against lunar program strategy

(INSIDER CONTENT)

By early 2021, Roskosmos planned to give the role of robotic pathfinder for human expeditions to the Moon to the Luna-28 sample-return spacecraft. According to the proposed strategy, a large lunar landing platform would travel to the Moon, testing crucial technologies for a subsequent human landing. But the idea did not sit well with Russian scientists.

 

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    Writing and photography by Anatoly Zak

    All rights reserved

    Last update: September 30, 2021