You are on page 1of 3

DESIGNING A LUNAR ROVER

Although the Lunokhod was portrayed by the Soviet Union as a safer, cheaper
alternative to the manned Apollo missions, in fact the Lunokhod long pre-dated
Apollo. Originally, Lunokhod was an integral part of the manned Russian lunar
programme. Moon rovers were to pave the way for manned landings by surveying
sites before cosmonauts landed, the L-2 programme. They would leave beacons to
guide the LK landing ships in. Later, bigger rovers would be landed and cosmonauts
were expected to ride them across the moon (the L-5 programme).
The moon rover was originally designed in Korolev's OKB-1. The preliminary
studies were done by Mikhail Tikhonravov in 1960. When the Americans first landed
a rover on Mars, the Sojourner (1997), it was tiny. By contrast and in typical Soviet
style, the Russians started large. Korolev's team determined that the rover should be
at least 600 kg, the size of a small car. This would require a launcher much larger than
the Molniya then in design, so Korolev made it a candidate for an early version of the
N-1 rocket. Korolev issued the order for the construction of a moon rover in March
1963, but the project progressed slowly and was set back when later that year the state
Institute for Tractor and Agricultural Machinery Building declined to develop it,
deeming the project to be 'impossible'.
So, later in 1963, Sergei Korolev instead turned to VNII-100 Transmash of
Leningrad, or the Mobile Vehicle Engineering Unit [3]. In September of that year,
Korolev met with VNII Transmash engineers to go through the possibilities.

Transmash designed tanks for the Red Army - indeed, during the siege of Stalingrad,
tanks were sometimes rolled out of the factory straight up to the front line. The
important role of Alexander Kemurdzhian in the Soviet lunar programme emerged
only in recent years. He was born on 4th October 1921 in Vladikavkaz and entered the
Bauman Technological College in Moscow in 1940. When the war broke out, he went
to Leningrad Artillery College and participated in some of the epic battles of the war,
such as the crossing of the Dniepr. After the war, he worked on truck design,
specializing in transmission systems, for which he obtained a doctorate in 1957.
Two years later, he moved into the new area of air cushion vehicles (hovercraft).
Kemurdzhian had a personal interest in spaceflight (something he made dear to
Korolev) and saw the potential for remote-controlled vehicles exploring the planets.
The rover project was no sideshow, for in 1964 it won approval - as the L-2
programme - in the 1964 government and party resolution committing the Soviet
Union to going to the moon.
The conceptual study was completed in six months, by April 1964. One of the first
problems faced by the designers was the load-bearing capacity of the lunar soil, for
this would govern chassis, power systems and wheel design. Until such time as softlanders tested the surface, it would be impossible to know the answer for definite. In
an attempt to make the best possible estimate, a conference of lunar and astronomical experts were gathered at Kharkov University that year, hosted by Professor
Barabashev and also attended by Professor Troitsky of Gorky University and Professor Sharanov of Leningrad University. In the event, their estimates were broadly

Moon rover on test

correct, being confirmed by Luna 13 two years later. First design sketches were
concluded in September 1965.
The rover project was turned over, along with all the other unmanned lunar and
interplanetary programmes, to OKB Lavochkin in 1965. Kemurdzhian worked
closely with the director of OKB Lavochkin, Georgi Babakin, to finalize what was
then called in 1966 the Ye-8. The Ye-8 was originally intended to pave the way for the
manned lunar landing. Before the first Ye-8 landed, suitable sites would first be
selected by a close-look lunar orbiter. To do this, a version of the rover was adapted
for a photography mission in lunar orbit to select a main landing site for the lunar
landing, but there was also a reserve one nearby, not more than 5 km distant. Two
Ye-8s would then be landed, one at the main site, one at the reserve. These would
confirm the suitability of both sites for the manned lunar landing. In an elaboration of
the plan, an unmanned LK would be landed near the rover at the reserve site and
checked out to see that it was in good working order. If when he landed his LK was
disabled, the sole cosmonaut could travel to the reserve LK to return to Earth. In a
further version, the cosmonaut could use the rover to travel across the lunar surface
from the main site to the reserve site.
A number of designs using different numbers of wheels were considered in the
course of 1965-6. The designers considered tractors, walkers and even jumpers, from
caterpillar to four-wheel designs. The very first rover design was for a dome carried on
four caterpillar wheels, very like a tank. The first rovers were designed to weigh nearly
a tonne, about 900 kg. When it was apparent that the N-1 would not become quickly
available, the Ye-8 was scaled down so that it could be accommodated within
Chelomei's UR-500K Proton. The final rover design was for an unmanned rover.
In a further modification of the original plan, the Ye-8 would be launched before the
Ye-8LS lunar orbiter, the opposite of what had been intended.
The rover design was settled in 1967 and a 150 kg scaled prototype was
constructed in Leningrad that year. A version was tested in the volcanic region of
Kamchatka in the Soviet far east, which was the Earth's surface closest in character to
the moon. Models were tested in the Crimea and early versions of the transmission
gears and wheels were flown out to the moon on Luna 11 and 12 in 1966 and Luna 14
in 1968. Even though it had been scaled back, the final rover was still a substantial
piece of engineering. The vehicle, to be called 'Lunokhod' or 'moon walker' in
Russian, weighed 756 kg and was 4.42 m long (lid open), 2.15 m in diameter and
1.92m high. Its wheel base was 2.22 m by 1.6 m. The main container was a pressurized
vehicle, looking like an upside down bathtub, carrying cameras, transmitters and
scientific instruments. It was kept warm by a small decaying radioisotope of 11 kg
of polonium-210. The eight 51 cm diameter wheels were made by the Kharkhov
State Bicycle Plant, made of metal with a mesh covering. There was a ninth wheel
behind the vehicle to measure distance. Each wheel had its own electric motor. In
the event of one wheel becoming completely stuck, a small explosive charge could
be fired to sever it. The vehicle was designed to climb slopes of 20 and manage side
slopes of 40 to 45 . The main designers were, aside from Kermurdzhian himself,
Gary Rogovsky, Pavel Sologub, Valery Gromov, Anatoli Mitskevich and Slava
Mishkinjuk.