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Luna 17

Goals: Luna 17 was designed to deliver a robotic rover called "Lunokhod 1" to the lunar surface. The rover was to travel to various locations under the real-time control of operators on Earth and conduct tests on the lunar soil for 3 lunar days (about 3 Earth months).

Accomplishments: This first successful Soviet rover operated for 11 lunar days, the equivalent of 322 Earth days. It traveled more than 10 km across the lunar surface, during which it transmitted more than 20,000 TV images and 206 high-resolution panoramas, performed 25 soil analyses with its spectrometer, and used a penetrometer to test the soil's mechanical characteristics at more than 500 locations. It also conducted a French experiment (similar to a U.S. Apollo experiment a year earlier) in which laser pulses from two observatories-one Soviet and one French-were reflected back to Earth, enabling measurement of the Earth-Moon distance to within 30 cm.

10 Nov 1970: Launch
17 Nov 1970: Lunokhod 1 Rover Deployment

Mission Type: Rover
Launch Vehicle: Proton booster plus upper stage and escape stages; 8K82K + Blok D (Proton-K no. 251-01)
Launch Site: Tyuratam (Baikonur Cosmodrome), USSR; NIIP-5 / launch site 81L
Spacecraft Mass: Spacecraft: 5700 kg; Rover: 756 kg
Spacecraft Instruments: 1) imaging system (two low-resolution TVs and four high-resolution photometers); 2) x-ray spectrometer; 3) penetrometer; 4) laser reflector; 5) radiation detectors; 6) x-ray telescope; and 7) odometer/speedometer
Spacecraft Dimensions: Descent vehicle: about 4 meters maximum distance between the landing legs Rover: 1.35 m high and 2.15 m across the top of the pressurized container, with a wheelbase of 1.6 m.
Spacecraft Power: Solar cells and chemical batteries
Deep Space Chronicle: A Chronology of Deep Space and Planetary Probes 1958-2000, Monographs in Aerospace History No. 24, by Asif A. Siddiqi

National Space Science Data Center,

Solar System Log by Andrew Wilson, published 1987 by Jane's Publishing Co. Ltd.

Luna 17 continued the spate of successes in Soviet lunar exploration begun by Luna 16 and Zond 8. Luna 17 carried Lunokhod 1, the first in a series of robot lunar roving vehicles whose conception had begun in the early 1960s, originally as part of the piloted lunar landing operations. This was the second attempt to land such a vehicle on the Moon after a failure in February 1969.

The descent stage was equipped with two landing ramps (in case one was blocked by a boulder) to enable the rover to disembark onto the Moon's surface. The 756-kilogram rover stood about 1.35 meters high and was 2.15 meters across. Each of its eight wheels could be controlled independently for two forward and two reverse speeds. Its top speed was about 100 meters per hour, with commands issued by a five-man team of "drivers" on Earth who had to deal with the 5-second delay. The set of scientific instruments was powered by solar cells (installed on the inside of the hinged top lid of the rover) and chemical batteries.

After two midcourse corrections en route to the Moon, Luna 17 entered lunar orbit and then landed on the lunar surface at 03:46:50 UT on 17 November 1970 at 38°17' north latitude and 35°deg; west longitude, about 2,500 kilometers from the Luna 16 site in the Sea of Rains. The Lunokhod 1 rover rolled over one of the ramps and onto the lunar surface at 06:28 UT.

The rover had an expected lifetime of three lunar days but operated for eleven. During its 322 Earth days of operation, the rover traveled 10.54 kilometers and returned more than 20,000 TV images and 206 high-resolution panoramas. In addition, Lunokhod 1 performed 25 soil analyses with its RIFMA X-ray fluorescence spectrometer and used its penetrometer at some 500 different locations. Controllers finished the last communications session with Lunokhod 1 at 13:05 UT on 14 September 1971. Attempts to reestablish contact were finally discontinued on 4 October.

- Credit: NASA

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