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Luna - Exploring the Moon


Scarborough, UK
2014 Sep 19
Friday, Day 262

Maintained by:





Selected Luna Missions:















Elsewhere:

A different view from Ian Ridpath

Summarised by Don P Mitchell


The Mission of Luna 17

Luna 17 acted as transport to get the Lunokhod 1 roving vehicle onto the lunar surface. The Luna 17 descent stage was similar to Luna 16's but the space occupied by the sample return spacecraft was given over to carrying the rover.

Lunokhod 1

Lunokhod 1Lunokhod's main body was hermetically sealed and filled with nitrogen at normal atmospheric pressure. It was kept warm by a radio-isotope which generated heat as its radio-activity decayed.

The domed panel on top was hinged at the rear so that it could be used as a layer of insulation during the two-week lunar 'night'. During the 'day' it was opened out to allow a layer of solar cells on its inside to provide electricity to charge Lunokhod's batteries. In the photograph at the top of the page, the lid is closed but the drawing (below) that illustrates Lunokhod on the move shows it in the open positin.

Before each Lunar day's activities (14 Earth days), the rover spent some time with the lid open in order to get enough power to be able to move off. At the end of each day's operations, Lunokhod was parked in a position that ensured maximum benefit from the solar illumination when the lid was opened the next day.

Lunokhod's eight wire-mesh wheels each had its own electric motor to allow manoeuvring in tight spaces, and so failure of a single motor did not prevent it from moving.

The lidded box at the front is a French-built laser reflector. It was used to reflect back to Earth a laser beam, making it possible to measure the distance between the Earth and Moon to an accuracy of twenty to thirty centimetres.

Luna 17

Lunokhod 1 being mated with Luna 17In this view, Lunokhod is being mated with the Luna 17 lander.

A comparison of the photo with the illustration of Lunokhod descending from Luna 17 on the Moon (below) shows extra tanks that hold retro-rocket propellant for entering lunar orbit. They are the vertical cylinders with domed ends.

The tanks were designed to be released and left in lunar orbit before descent to the surface. This was in order to reduce the total mass of the lander and hence the amount of propellant needed for retrofire and touchdown.

The landing stage of this design of lunar spacecraft found its way into the design of Soviet interplanetary craft acting as one of the major components of the later 'Phobos' Mars exploration craft.

Getting onto the Moon

Lunokhod 1 drives off the landerOnce on the Moon, the Luna 17 lander let down two pairs of ramps on opposite sides of the spacecraft. Lunokhod 1 was then able to be driven down either set, allowing a alternative route should some obstruction like a piece of rock impede its passage down one pair.


Driving Around

Lunokhod 1 crosses a creviceLunokhod 1 was equipped with a pair of TV camera 'eyes' used by its 'crew' to see where they were steering it. The two antennae (one spiral and one conical) above the TV cameras provide communication with Earth. The spiral one is the main, steerable transmitting antenna.

Lunokhod had a crew of two at any one time with engineers working shifts. A vehicle driver was needed to deal with steering and forward/back movement, and a second crew member's job was to 'drive' Lunokhod's steerable aerial and keep it lined-up with the Earth.

Lunokhod 1 odometerDriving was not simply a job of looking at the tv monitors and operating Lunokhod like a computer game. Each movement was carefully planned after studying image of the terrain, working out distances and working out movements of the aerial to ensure that communications were maintained.

Lunokhod was actually equipped with a ninth wheel, attached to the rear of the vehicle. It was a simple distance measuring device, an odometer, to allow calculation of the total amount of travel undertaken by the Moon rover.


Lunokhod Statistics:

Lunokhod operated for eleven months - eight months longer than anticipated. In that time, it travelled nearly 10.5 kilometres and sent back over 20,000 TV pictures and more than 200 TV panoramas, as well as conducting over 500 lunar soil tests.

Luna 17 Statistics:

Launch Vehicle: Proton (four stage version)
Launching Technique: Low orbit around Earth, translunar trajectory, then lunar orbit followed by landing
Mass: 1,836 kilogrammes on lunar surface
Length: 2.3 metres)
Maximum Diameter: 3.3 metres (including landing legs)

Date Time (UTC) Event
1970 Nov 10 14:44 Luna 17 (E-8-203) launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome by four-stage Proton rocket into 192 x 237 kilometre orbit around the Earth at 51.5 degrees inclination - its mission is to enter orbit around the Moon and then land the Lunokhod 1 remote-controlled roving vehicle on its surface
1970 Nov 10 15:54 Final stage of Luna 17 launching rocket fired to place it into a trajectory towards the Moon
1970 Nov 12 Luna 17 rocket engine is used to correct its trajectory towards the Moon
1970 Nov 14 Luna 17 rocket engine is used to correct its trajectory towards the Moon
1970 Nov 15 22:00 Approx time - Luna 17 enters 85 kilometre circular orbit around the Moon at 141 degrees inclination
1970 Nov 17 After firing its onboard rocket engine, Luna 17 orbit around the Moon is now 19 x 85 kilometres at 141 degrees inclination
1970 Nov 17 03:41 Luna 17 fires its rocket engine and begins its descent towards a landing on the Moon surface
1970 Nov 17 03:47 Luna 17 lands on the Moon at 38.28 degrees north, 35 degrees wast in the Mare Imbrium
1970 Nov 17 04:20 Radio links with the Lunokhod 1 moon rover are established for the first time
1970 Nov 17 05:31 Lunokhod 1 returns its first TV image of the lunar surface
1970 Nov 17 06:28 Lunokhod 1 descends a pair of ramps on Luna 17 landing stage and moves onto the moon surface
1970 Nov 22 Lunokhod 1 is parked for the lunar night, having travelled 197 metres, returned 14 close up pictures of the Moon, and sent back 12 panoramic views during 10 communications sessions, and conducted analyses of the lunar soil - its protective 'lid' which carries a solar panel is closed
1970 Dec 5 A laser signal is directed at the French-built laser reflector on Lunokhod 1 and is used to measure the precise distance from the Earth to the Moon
1970 Dec 6 A second laser reflection experiment is performed with Lunokhod 1
1970 Dec 9 Lunokhod 1 'lid' is opened and its batteries begin to charge
1970 Dec 10 Lunokhod 1 begins its second lunar day experimental programme
1970 Dec 22 Lunokhod 1 is parked for its second lunar night, 1,370 metres away from Luna 17, and having travelled a further 1,522 metres and continued its programme of photography and soil measurements - its protective 'lid' is closed
1971 Jan 8 Lunokhod 1 'lid' is opened and its batteries begin to charge prior to it third lunar day on the Moon
1971 Jan 17 Lunokhod 1 has returned to Luna 17 and photographs the spacecraft lander on the lunar surface
1971 Jan 20 Lunokhod 1 is parked for its third lunar night, having travelled a further 1,936 metres and continued its programme of photography and soil measurements - it protective 'lid' is closed
1971 Feb 8 Lunokhod 1 'lid' is opened and its batteries begin to charge prior to it fourth lunar day on the Moon
1971 Feb 19 Lunokhod 1 is parked for its fourth lunar night, having travelled a further 1,573 metres and continued its programme of photography and soil measurements and its protective 'lid' is closed - it has reached the end of its originally-planned life
1971 Mar 9 Lunokhod 1 'lid' is opened and its batteries begin to charge prior to it fifth lunar day on the Moon
1971 Mar 20 Lunokhod 1 is parked for its fifth lunar night, having travelled a further 2,004 metres and continued its programme of photography and soil measurements - it protective 'lid' is closed
1971 Apr 8 Lunokhod 1 'lid' is opened and its batteries begin to charge prior to it sixth lunar day on the Moon
1971 Apr 20 Lunokhod 1 is parked for its sixth lunar night, having travelled a further 1,029 metres and continued its programme of photography and soil measurements - it protective 'lid' is closed
1971 May 7 Lunokhod 1 'lid' is opened and its batteries begin to charge prior to it seventh lunar day on the Moon
1971 May 20 Lunokhod 1 is parked for its seventh lunar night, having travelled a further 197 metres and continued its programme of photography and soil measurements - it protective 'lid' is closed
1971 Jun 5 Lunokhod 1 'lid' is opened and its batteries begin to charge prior to it eighth lunar day on the Moon - it workload has been 'lightened' owing to the age of its systems
1971 Jun 18 Lunokhod 1 is parked for its eighth lunar night, having travelled a further 1,559 metres and continued its programme of photography and soil measurements - it protective 'lid' is closed
1971 Jul 4 Lunokhod 1 'lid' is opened and its batteries begin to charge prior to it ninth lunar day on the Moon
1971 Jul 17 Lunokhod 1 is parked for its ninth lunar night, having travelled a further 220 metres and continued its programme of photography and soil measurements - it protective 'lid' is closed
1971 Aug 3 Lunokhod 1 'lid' is opened and its batteries begin to charge prior to it tenth lunar day on the Moon
1971 Aug 16 Lunokhod 1 is parked for its tenth lunar night, having travelled a further 215 metres and continued its programme of photography and soil measurements - it protective 'lid' is closed
1971 Aug 31 Lunokhod 1 'lid' is opened and its batteries begin to charge prior to it eleventh lunar day on the Moon
1971 Sep 15 Lunokhod 1 is parked for its eleventh lunar night, having travelled a further 88 metres and continued its programme of photography and soil measurements - it protective 'lid' is closed
1971 Oct 4 On the anniversary of the launch of the first Sputnik', Lunokhod 1 is officially declared 'dead', having failed to respond to radio instructions for its revival - it has traveled 10,540 m and transmitted over 20,000 TV pictures and more than 200 TV panoramas, as well as conducting over 500 lunar soil tests
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