Thursday, June 08, 2006

Russians are back in the space exploration business?

The Russians are planning two spacecraft missions in the relatively near future. The first is a sample return from the Martian moons. This would be a follow-up to the failed Phobos missions, I suppose, from the Soviet era. This time it is a sample return mission. The second mission is to the moon. If the first could be called ambitious this one is rather more so:

The ambitious flight, entering initial design, will include a lunar orbiter that, under the current plan, will also simultaneously deploy 13 probes across diverse regions of the lunar surface. This will include two penetrators that will be fired toward the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 landing sites to acquire subsurface data to build on the manned exploration and instrumentation left at those locations 37 years ago by U.S. astronauts.

The Russian flight is also to shower 10 other higher-speed penetrators on the Moon that will form a seismic network to help solve questions about the Moon's origin.

The mother ship for the penetrators is then to drop a soft lander into a south polar crater to search for signs of water ice that would complement data from the planned 2008 U.S. Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing impactor mission to the same region (AW&ST Apr. 17, p. 26). The new "Luna-Glob" mission is now a formal part of the Russian space plan with launch set for 2012, says Nikolay F. Moiseev, deputy director of the Russian space agency. With the new lunar flight, Russia finally joins the U.S., China, India, Japan and Europe in renewed exploration of the Moon. But the program is also subject to future budget and technical risks.

From here.

Considering they've not flown a space probe outside low earth orbit in a long time - Soviet Era, iirc, and that's 15+ years ago now! - I hope they're not biting off more than they can chew. Their last attempt was the Mars 96 probe and that didn't work out so well...alas.

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