With the failure of Phobos-Grunt still being felt keenly, Russia has announced plans to explore the moon, ending in a manned landing before 2030, according to a report on the Roscosmos website, as reported by Moon Daily.
Russia will send unmanned probes to the moon first
The first stage of the Russia moon effort will consist of two probes that are planned to be sent to Earth's nearest neighbor by 2020. They are Luna Glob and Luna Resurs. A sample return mission called Lunar Grunt would be launched in the early 2020s.
According to the Russian Space Web, the Luna Glob probe has undergone a number of iterations since the late 1990s, which at one time included penetrators that would smash into the lunar surface. The current version of Lunar Glob, according to Moon Daily, would consist of a lander that would touch down at the lunar south pole in 2015 and then an orbiter that would be launched the following year.
According to Pulis Space Technology, Luna Resurs would be launched either in 2017 or 2018 and would deliver a rover to the lunar surface.
Luna Grunt would consist of two landers, one with a rover, and one with a stage that could return to Earth. Luna Grunt 1 would land on the moon and the rover would travel about gather soil and rock samples. A year later, Luna Grunt 2 would land. The rover would deposit the samples in the Luna Grunt 2 ascent stage, which would then send them back to Earth for analysis.
The manned Russian landing
Since the manned landing is not scheduled for at least 18 years, little information is available about the architecture of such an effort. Russian officials have voiced the desire to make a manned lunar effort an international one, including American and European partners.
Previous Russian lunar efforts
During the Soviet era, the USSR had a very extensive lunar effort, including a number of flyby and orbiter missions that returned extensive data about the lunar surface, according to NASA. The Luna 3 probe returned the first images from the moon's farside in 1959.
In response to Kennedy's moon challenge, the Soviet Union had a manned lunar program of its own. Because of failures of the Soviet heavy lift launch vehicle, the N-1, the USSR was not able to mount their own lunar expedition. A parallel lunar orbital program fared no better.
The Soviets were able to mount two successful unmanned rover missions to the moon, Lunokhod 1 and Lunokhod 2, in the early 1970s. The Soviets were also able to return a small amount of lunar samples in their Luna lander series.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.