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Luna 20



Luna 20 was placed in an intermediate earth parking orbit and from this orbit was sent towards the Moon. It entered lunar orbit on February 18, 1972. On 21 February 1972, Luna 20 soft landed on the Moon at 3.7863 N, 56.6242 E in a mountainous area known as the Apollonius highlands near Mare Foecunditatis (Sea of Fertility), 120 km from where Luna 16 had impacted. While on the lunar surface, the panoramic television system was operated. Lunar samples were obtained by means of an extendable drilling apparatus. The ascent stage of Luna 20 was launched from the lunar surface on 22 February 1972 carrying 30 grams of collected lunar samples in a sealed capsule. It landed in the Soviet Union on 25 February 1972. The lunar samples were recovered the following day.

Spacecraft and Subsystems

Luna 20 was based on the Ye-8-5 spacecraft body, consisting of two attached stages, an ascent stage mounted on top of a descent stage. The lander stood 3.96 meters tall and had an unfueled landed mass of 1880 kg. With a full load of fuel its launch mass was between 5600 and 5750 kg.

The descent stage was the same as the Ye-8 lower stage for the Lunokhod rovers, a cylindrical body with four protruding landing legs, fuel tanks, a landing radar altimeter, and a dual descent engine complex. The main descent rocket, the KTDU-417, was a throttleable 1920 kg thrust engine used for mid-course corrections, orbit insertion, braking for descent to the surface, and 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 (210 and 350 kg) vernier jets was used for the final landing. The descent stage also acted as a launch pad for the ascent stage. The spacecraft descent stage was equipped with a television camera, radiation and temperature monitors, telecommunications equipment, and a 90 cm extendable arm with a drilling rig for the collection of a lunar soil sample. Communications were via a conical antenna at the end of a boom at 768 and 922 MHz (downlink) and 115 MHz (uplink).

The ascent stage was a smaller cylinder with a spherical top which replaced the Lunokhod rover and housing from the Ye-8 bus. It carried a cylindrical hermetically sealed soil sample container inside a spherical re-entry capsule, mounted on a 1920 kg thrust KRD-61 rocket. Total mass of the ascent stage was 520 kg, of which 245 kg was the nitric acid and UDMH propellant. It was 2 meters tall. The sample return cabin was 50 cm in diameter and had a mass of 39 kg. The KRD-61 could only fire once, for 53 seconds, to put it on a free return trajectory to Earth. Specific impulse of the engine was 313 seconds, it could impart a velocity of 2600 - 2700 m/s to the return craft.

Rendered spacecraft image above credit NASA/NSSDCA (public domain)

Alternate Names

  • 05835
  • Luna20
  • Lunik 20

Facts in Brief

Launch Date: 1972-02-14
Launch Vehicle: Proton Booster Plus Upper Stage and Escape Stages
Launch Site: Tyuratam (Baikonur Cosmodrome), U.S.S.R
Mass: 5600 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

  • Luna 20 sample return system detailed, Aviat. Week Space Technol., 96, No. 12, 20, Mar. 1972.
  • Vinogradov, A. P., Preliminary data on lunar soil collected by the Luna-20 unmanned spacecraft, Geochim. et Cosmochim. Acta, 37, No. 4, 721-729, doi:10.1016/0016-7037(73)90169-5, Apr. 1973. (Presented at a Meeting of the Presidium of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences, 11 May, 1972). (Trans. from Geokhimiya, 763-774, 1972).
  • 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.

Luna 16 Lander Information
Luna 20 Lander Information
Luna 24 Lander Information

Other Soviet Lunar Missions
Lunar Science Home Page

Luna 16 Lander Luna 16 landing craft
Luna 20 return capsule in snow Luna 20 return capsule after landing

Luna 24 Lander Luna 24 landing craft

Above three images for illustrative purposes only, not necessarily in the public domain.

Luna 16, 20, 20 return capsules Sample return capsules from Luna 16, 20, and 24 on display at the NPO Lavochkin Museum.
Courtesy of Alexander Chernov and the Virtual Space Museum

Luna 16, 20 Lander Rendering of Luna 16 and 20 lander, credit NASA/NSSDCA (public domain)

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