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Luna 15



Luna 15 was an intended lunar sample return mission. It took place at the same time as the Apollo 11 Moon landing mission, and was thought to be a last ditch effort by the Soviet Union to return a sample from the Moon before the United States. It also caused much speculation at the time at NASA as to its purpose and status, even as the main focus was on Apollo 11. A successful mission would have resulted in a soft landing, a drill on an extendable arm collecting a sample and placing it in a container in a rocket on top of the lander, and then launching of the rocket back to Earth. Due to technical problems, the mission failed and crashed on the lunar surface.

Spacecraft and Subsystems

Luna 15 was a Ye-8-5 spacecraft, basically identical to the successful Luna 16 mission that operated just over a year later. It had a mass of 2718 kg. The spacecraft consisted of two attached stages, an ascent stage mounted on top of a descent stage. The descent stage was a cylindrical body with four protruding landing legs, fuel tanks, a landing radar, and a dual descent engine complex. A main descent engine was used to slow the craft until it reached a cutoff point which was determined by the onboard computer based on altitude and velocity. After cutoff a bank of lower thrust jets was used for the final landing. The descent stage also acted as a launch pad for the ascent stage. The ascent stage was a smaller cylinder with a rounded top. It carried a cylindrical hermetically sealed soil sample container inside a re-entry capsule. The spacecraft descent stage was equipped with a television camera, radiation and temperature monitors, telecommunications equipment, and an extendable arm with a drilling rig for the collection of a lunar soil sample.

Mission Profile

Luna 15 launched on 13 July 1969 at 02:54:42 UT from Baikonur Cosmodrome on a Proton-K booster with a Blok D upper stage. It was placed in an intermediate Earth orbit after launch and was then sent on a relatively slow 103 hour journey toward the Moon. The ascent stage tank was found to be overheating, this was corrected by turning the tank away from the Sun. It reached the Moon on 17 June at 10:00 UT and went into a 139 x 295 km, 126 degree (retrograde) orbit, much higher than the planned orbit. A number of course corrections were made over the next three days to achieve a 16 x 110 km altitude orbit in preparation for landing. The landing was then delayed for a day due to concerns about the roughness at the landing site. On 21 July at 15:46:43 UT the retrorockets were fired to begin the descent. After completing 86 communications sessions and 52 orbits of the Moon at various inclinations and altitudes, the spacecraft impacted the lunar surface on July 21, 1969 at 15:50:40 UT at an estimated position of 17 N, 60 E. Other references give the crash site as 12 N, 59 E or 17 N, 49 E. Impact velocity was estimated at about 130 meters/second.

Spacecraft image for illustrative purposes only- not necessarily in the public domain.

Alternate Names

  • 04036
  • Luna15
  • Lunik 15

Facts in Brief

Launch Date: 1969-07-13
Launch Vehicle: Proton Booster Plus Upper Stage and Escape Stages
Launch Site: Tyuratam (Baikonur Cosmodrome), U.S.S.R
Mass: 2718 kg

Funding Agency

  • Unknown (U.S.S.R)


  • Planetary Science
  • Space Physics

Additional Information

Questions and comments about this spacecraft can be directed to: Dr. David R. Williams



NameRoleOriginal AffiliationE-mail
Mr. Artem IvankovGeneral ContactLavochkin

Selected References

  • Harvey, B., The new Russian space programme from competition to collaboration, John Wiley and Sons, Chichester, England, 1996.
  • Johnson, N. L., Handbook of soviet lunar and planetary exploration - volume 47 science and technology series, Amer. Astronau. Soc. Publ., 1979.
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