The LK -Russian: Lunniy Korabl- (Лунный корабль—"lunar ship") was a Soviet lunar lander and counterpart of the American Lunar Module (LM). The LK was to have landed up to two cosmonauts on the Moon. It completed development and was test flown successfully in Earth orbit, but never reached the Moon because development of the N1 rocket, required to take it to the Moon, was unsuccessful.
Korolev's N1-L3 plan
Sergei Korolev, the lead Soviet rocket engineer and spacecraft designer during the 1950s and 1960s, planned to adopt the same lunar orbit rendezvous concept as seen in the Apollo Program. The Lunar expedition spacecraft L3 consist of LOK Lunniy Orbitalny Korabl (Soyuz 7K-L3) Command Ship (a variant of the Soyuz) and LK Lander. L3 would carry a two-man crew atop a single three-stage superheavy N-1 booster. A fourth stage, the Block G, would push toward the Moon the L3 (LOK+LK) with Block D as fifth stage.
The Block D engine would also slow the L3 into lunar orbit. Following the coast to the Moon, one cosmonaut would spacewalk from the LOK to the LK (Lunniy Korabl) lander and enter it. He would then separate the Block D stage and the LK from the LOK before dropping toward the Moon using the Block D engine.
An earlier unmanned probe of the Luna programme, a Lunokhod would be used to select a suitable area, and then act as a beacon for the LK. A backup LK would then be launched to the landing site. The third step would see a manned LK landing with a single cosmonaut.
After a day on the lunar surface the LK's engine would fire again, using its landing leg structure as a launch pad. To save weight, the engine used for landing would also blast the LK back to lunar orbit for an automated docking with the LOK, using the Kontakt docking system. The cosmonaut would then spacewalk back to the LOK carrying the Moon rock samples, and the LK would then be cast off. After this, the LOK would fire its rocket for the return to Earth. The LK's docking port was a latticework of 96 hexagon-shaped holes arranged in an isometric grid, each as a potential docking port for the snare-shaped probe of the LOK to fit in without precise alignment of the two craft.
The LK spacecraft can be subdivided into the Lunar Landing Aggregate, (Lunnyi Posadochnyi Agregat, LPA) and the Lunar Ascent Vehicle, (Lunnyi Vzletnyi Apparat, LVA). Propulsion, both for landing and lifting off the Moon was based on the Block E propulsion system. The Information Display System (spacecraft control panels and controls) version was called Luch.
The spacecraft included the following systems:
- Pressurized cosmonaut compartment;
- Flight control avionics;
- Life-support system;
- Attitude control systems;
- Lunar landing device, or LPU, with four landing legs;
- Power supply system, consisting of chemical batteries attached to LPU;
The spacecraft included the following instruments:
- Planeta landing radar
- pressurized avionics container
- two communication antennas
- three batteries
- four containers with water for a vaporization unit
- robotic arm and drill
The LK as T2K was tested unmanned in Earth orbit four times, as Kosmos 379, Kosmos 382, Kosmos 398 and Kosmos 434. The first test was done on November 24, 1970, the second on December 2, 1970, the third on February 26, 1971, and the fourth on August 12, 1971.
All four LKs were launched with the Soyuz-L rocket. The first flight imitated the planned working cycle of the Block E rocket block. The third and fourth flights were intended to test the LK's behavior under several flight anomalies. All flights went well, and the LK was considered ready for manned flight.
The success of Project Apollo in putting American astronauts on the Moon in 1969 meant that the United States won the Moon race, although plans were being drawn right up until the early 1970s. Four N1 launches were attempted including two later with dummy LK but all were failures, despite engineering improvements after each failure. The second launch attempt on July 3, 1969, just 13 days prior to the launch of Apollo 11, was a catastrophic failure which destroyed both the rocket and the launch complex. Subsequently, the complete L3 lunar expedition complex with regular LK and Soyuz 7K-LOK module-spacecraft for Moon flyby and landing by full unmanned mission of future manned scenario was prepared for fifth launch of modified N1 rocket on August, 1974. But N1-L3 program was cancelled on May, 1974 and the Soviets decided to concentrate on the development of space stations, achieving several firsts in the process, which continues to the present day.
Lunniy Korabl compared to Lunar Module
- It had a different landing profile
- It was lighter at only 1/3 the mass of the LM
- Initially the LK was to have carried a single cosmonaut. A later variant would have a two-man crew; the LM carried two
- It had no docking tunnel like the LM's; the cosmonaut would space walk from the LOK (Soyuz 7K-L3) Command Ship to the LK and back.
- To leave lunar orbit and begin descent, the LK used the same braking stage, the Blok D, which put the LK-Soyuz stack into lunar orbit; the LM used its landing stage engine (though later Apollo missions also used the SPS engine to help deorbit the LM)
- The final deceleration, from a velocity of 100 m/s at an altitude of 4 km above the lunar surface, was done with a Block E stage, capable of multiple restarts. This allowed the same Block to also serve as the ascent stage to return the LK to lunar orbit; the LM's landing stage had a dedicated engine for landing
- For better performance, LK Block E engines used turbopumps to provide them with fuel components. However, solid charges were used for quick activation of the pumps that limited the number of ignitions.
- After landing the LK landing gear structure was designed to serve as a mini-launch complex for the upper stage's lift-off; the Apollo LM used its descent stage in the same fashion.
- The LK Block E had both primary and reserve engines allowing for reassurance of ascent; the Apollo LM lifted off with a single ascent engine, and had no backup or reserve but was designed for simplicity and reliability allowing for optimal assurance of ascent. A failure of the LM ascent engine would guarantee a critical mission failure.
There are five remaining LK in various stages of completion. They are located at:
- Moscow Aviation Institute (temporarily displayed at Disneyland Paris)
- Orevo Research and Educational Facility of Bauman University at Moscow
- RKK Energia plant at Korolev
- Tambov (air base)
- A. Mozhaysky Military Space Academy in St Petersburg.
- The "Valiant 11" lunar lander found in a museum in the game Fallout 3 bears a very strong resemblance to the Soviet LK.
- A bloodstained Soviet LK lander is depicted in the movie Apollo 18.
- In the Black Dynamite episode "The Dark Side of the Dark Side of the Moon", Black Dynamite and a space chimp land on the Moon in an LK after hijacking it from an abandoned Soviet space station.
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- Sergei Korolev
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- "LK". Encyclopedia Astronautica. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
- Mark Franchetti (July 3, 2005). "Russia plans first men on Mars". London: The Times. Retrieved 2008-02-05.