Orbital Focus - International Spaceflight Facts and Figures
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Luna - Exploring the Moon

Tyneside, UK
2023 Oct 2
Monday, Day 275

Curated by:

Selected Luna Missions:


A different view from Ian Ridpath

Summarised by Don P Mitchell

The Mission of Luna 9

Luna 9 photographThis was the first successful mission of the series of lunar explorers using the 'E-6' flight bus, used for both lander and orbiter missions.

In this view we are looking at the end of the vehicle which houses the lander. At the opposite end is the conical housing of the retro-rocket - fired just before landing. There is a better view of it in photograph on the Luna 10 page. Two of the four low-thrust, course correction engines can be seen around the body of the vehicle. Several boxes of equipment are attached to the main spacecraft. These contain the guidance system, chemical batteries and navigation systems. To minimise fuel use, they were designed to be cast-off just before retro-rocket firing.

Here, a technician works on a spacecraft of the Luna 9 design. The ball-shaped object covered in insulating material is the lander. Before impact, the insulating layer was inflated like a balloon to provide a relatively-soft impact. Having a human being in the picture gives an indication of the actual size of the spacecraft.

Luna 9 and technicianThe main body of the spacecraft bus had a rod extending downwards from the retro rocket section. On contacting the lunar surface, it activated an ejection mechanism to push the lander upwards and away from the spacecraft so it would fall separately to the Moon's surface for a (relatively) low speed impact, softened even more by the inflated 'balloon'. An offset centre of gravity allowed it to roll 'right way up so that the petals could open.

After touching down, four petals opened out and pushed the craft upright. Rod-type antennae sent data to Earth, using the inner surfaces of the petals as reflectors. A weighted cable hung from each rod to indicate the vertical in photographs. They are missing from the model in the photograph below. It was on show at the 1968 Soviet Exhibition in London.

Luna 9 surface landerIn the top centre, is a cylinder which houses an angled mirror, in the manner of a periscope to reflect a view of the Moon's surface downwards into a photographic sensor to produce a panoramic view.

Luna 9 had some small panels of solar cells but its main power source was batteries, recharged slowly by the small current available from the solar cells.

Luna 9 Statistics:

Launch Vehicle: Molniya
Launching Technique: Low orbit around the Earth and then a direct landing trajectory
Mass: 1,583 kilogrammes fully fuelled (including 84 kg lander)
Length: 2.5 metres (including lander)
Maximum Diameter: 1.0 metres

Luna 9 panorama

Date Time (UTC) Event
1966 Jan 31 11:41 Luna 9 (E-6M) launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome by Molniya rocket into 167 x 219 kilometre orbit around the Earth at 51.8 degrees inclination - its mission is to soft land a camera module onto the lunar surface
1966 Jan 31 12:48 Final stage of Luna 9 launching rocket fired to place it into a trajectory towards the Moon
1966 Feb 1 19:29 Luna 9 rocket engine is fired for 48 seconds in order to correct its trajectory towards the Moon
1966 Feb 3 18:44 Luna 9 soft lands on the Moon surface at 7.13 degrees north, 60.36 degrees west in the Oceanus Procellarum
1966 Feb 4 01:50 Luna 9 transmits the first of three series of TV pictures over a period of 107 minutes which are then assembled into a panoramic view of the landing site
1966 Feb 4 14:00 Luna 9 transmits the first of second series of TV pictures over a period of 174 minutes which are then assembled into a panoramic view of the landing site - they reveal that Luna 9 has shifted its position slightly which permits a stereoscopic view to be built up
1966 Feb 6 20:37 Luna 9 transmits three further series of TV pictures over a period of 138 minutes
1966 Feb 6 22:55 Luna 9 final radio transmission ceases when its batteries are exhausted - it has been in radio contact with Earth for a total of 8 hours and 5 minutes over its three-day period of operation and has returned a total of 27 individual photographs of the lunar surface
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