Russia has made no secret of its desire to land cosmonauts on the lunar surface sometime in the late 2020s. As the United States, at least for the current administration, has decided to bypass the moon in favor of Mars, Russia could move to wipe out the humiliation it suffered at the hands of NASA when it lost the 1960s race to the moon with the landing of Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969. However, a Monday story in TASS suggests that a Russian moon landing effort would be complex, requiring up to six launches of its Angara rocket.
By contrast, the United States managed to land on the moon with one launch of the Saturn V. Modern concepts of an American return to the moon envision two launches of the heavy lift Space Launch System The most advanced version of the Angara envisioned for the moon landing would lift 35 tons to low Earth orbit as opposed to the Space Launch System’s 70 to 130 tons. The Angara A5V is in the conception stage.
“According to the source, a manned flight to the moon is possible under a scheme envisaging two coupled launches. First, a lunar take-off and landing complex is placed on a low Earth orbit, and then the upper stage with effective cryogenic propellants is orbited. The third launch orbits a manned spacecraft, and the fourth – another upper stage. After docking of the lunar take-off and landing complex with the manned spacecraft on the lunar orbit, the crew descends to the Moon surface inside the lunar take-off and landing complex, carries out the research program and returns to orbit. After that, the spaceship returns to Earth.
“Also, another coupled Angara-A5V launch will be needed before the manned flight to deliver and deploy the first expeditionary unit of the lunar base on the Moon.”
A debate has raged among aerospace circles over whether to use a heavy-lift rocket or numerous smaller rockets to mount a deep space exploration program. During the 1960s, the Soviets attempted to build and launch a heavy lift rocket called the N-1, which turned out to be a spectacular failure. In the 21st Century, the Russians seem to be headed toward using smaller rockets and assembling deep spacecraft in low Earth orbit before going to the moon.