Lunokhod-1  Photo Credit: Lavochkin Association

On Nov. 17, 1970 the first in the world automatic self-propelled vehicle Lunokhod-1 was delivered to the Moon’s surface using interplanetary station Luna-17.

According to an online story, the vehicle downlinked to the ground 20,000 images of the Moon’s surface including more than 200 panoramas.

OKB-1 Design Department (Experimental Design Bureau, now it is RSC Energia) headed by Doctor of Sciences, Professor M.K. Tikhonravov was engaged in the problems related to a small-size, vehicle delivery to the Moon’s surface since early sixties. The vehicle was called Lunokhod. It was a rover, its preliminary design was developed (with track assembly) and eight Luna stations were created.

In April 1965 all work on interplanetary vehicles including lunar ones was transferred to S.A. Lavochkin Machine-Building Plant (now it is NPO after S.A. Lavochkin). The work was led by Chief Designer G.N. Babakin. After receiving the data on characteristics of the lunar soil which proved to be rather solid, it was decided to abandon the track chassis in favour of a simple wheel. The self-propelled chassis was developed by Leningrad VNII100 (now it is VNII Transmash, St. Petersburg).

On the wheel base the pressurized instrument container was located; inside this container there was the following: television and radio complex instruments, lunar rover control and telemetry systems, automatic equipment units. Electricity during the lunar day (about 14 earth days) was generated by a solar array with photovoltaic elements but during the lunar night the rover systems power was supplied by storage battery.

To obtain panoramic images not requiring a high-rate image transmission, a special optomechanical panoramic scanning system consisting of four transmitting cameras was installed onboard the lunar rover.

The required thermal mode inside the pressurized container was maintained by radioisotopic heater which contained ampoules with polonium-210.

To total mass of Lunokhod-1 was almost 600 kg, the planned operation life of the vehicle on the Moon’s surface was equal to 3 months.

To deliver Lunokhod-1 to the Moon’s surface, automatic interplanetary station Luna-17 was intended. Its launch with Lunokhod-1 onboard took place on November 10, 1970 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome using Proton-K launch vehicle. On November 15 the station inserted into lunar artificial satellite orbit and on November 17 it made a successful landing in the Sea of Rains.

Lunokhod-1 control was provided from the ground, namely from the measuring station near Simferopol. Onboard the vehicle there was also an automatic safety system which monitored the work of the self-propelled chassis and in case of off-nominal situations gave command “stop”.

After the planned three-month program, it was decided to continue the lunar exploration as the onboard systems of the lunar rover operated normally. As a result, the lunar rover operated ten and a half months – till September 1971 when the radioisotopic heater life was exhausted. Altogether for a period equal to 301 days 6 hours 57 minutes the rover examined the surface area of 80 thousand sq.m, downlinked to the ground 200 telephotometric panoramas and about 20 thousand pictures of slow-scan television, as well as information on the chemical composition of the lunar soil.