Encyclopedia Astronautica
Lunar Orbiters


Manned lunar orbiters and orbiting stations were rarely designed for this purpose alone, but usually used in a lunar-orbit rendezvous lunar landing scenario together with a separate lunar lander. They were more powerful than circumlunar manned spacecraft in that they required substantial propellant to brake into and get out of lunar orbit.

For lunar base support, lunar orbiters made little sense unless the activities on the moon's surface were located either along the equator or near the poles (since otherwise the moon's slow rotation meant that the orbit would pass over the sites only twice a month).

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Associated Spacecraft
  • L4-1960 Russian manned lunar orbiter. Study 1960. Lunar orbiter proposed by Korolev in January 1960. The spacecraft was to take 2 to 3 men to lunar orbit and back to earth by 1965. More...
  • Apollo CSM American manned lunar orbiter. 22 launches, 1964.05.28 (Saturn 6) to 1975.07.15 (Apollo (ASTP)). The Apollo Command Service Module was the spacecraft developed by NASA in the 1960's as a standard spacecraft for earth and lunar orbit missions. More...
  • Apollo D-2 American manned lunar orbiter. Study 1962. The General Electric design for Apollo put all systems and space not necessary for re-entry and recovery into a separate jettisonable 'mission module', joined to the re-entry vehicle by a hatch. More...
  • L4-1963 Russian manned lunar orbiter. Study 1963. The L-4 Manned Lunar Orbiter Research Spacecraft would have taken two to three cosmonauts into lunar orbit for an extended survey and mapping mission. More...
  • Apollo MSS American manned lunar orbiter. Study 1965. The Apollo Mapping and Survey System was a kit of photographic equipment that was at one time part of the basic Apollo Block II configuration. More...
  • Gemini - Saturn V American manned lunar orbiter. In late 1964 McDonnell, in addition to a Saturn 1B-boosted circumlunar Gemini, McDonnell proposed a lunar-orbit version of Gemini to comprehensively scout the Apollo landing zones prior to the first Apollo missions. More...
  • Apollo Experiments Pallet American manned lunar orbiter. Study 1965. The Apollo Experiments Pallet was a sophisticated instrument payload that would have been installed in the Apollo CSM for dedicated lunar or earth orbital resource assessment missions. More...
  • Gemini LORV American manned lunar orbiter. Study 1967. This version of Gemini was studied as a means of rescuing an Apollo CSM crew stranded in lunar orbit. The Gemini would be launched unmanned on a translunar trajectory by a Saturn V. More...
  • Soyuz 7K-L1A Russian manned lunar orbiter. 2 launches, 1969.02.21 (N-1 3L) to 1969.07.03 (N-1 5L). Hybrid spacecraft used in N1 launch tests. More...
  • Apollo LRM American manned lunar orbiter. Study 1969. Grumman proposed to use the LM as a lunar reconnaissance module. But NASA had already considered this and many other possibilities (Apollo MSS, Apollo LMSS); and there was no budget available for any of them. More...
  • Soyuz 7K-L1E Russian manned lunar orbiter. 2 launches, 1969.11.28 (Soyuz 7K-L1E s/n 1) and 1970.12.02 (Cosmos 382). Modification of Soyuz circumlunar configuration used in propulsion tests of the Block D stage. More...
  • OS-1 Lunar Russian manned lunar orbiter. Study 1969. A version of the OS-1 station was proposed for use in lunar orbit. No other details beyond this sketch. More...
  • Skylab Lunar Orbit Station American manned lunar orbiter. Study 1970. McDonnell Douglas (Seal Beach, CA) did a study on modifying the to modify the Skylab as a moon-orbiting observatory and station More...
  • Soyuz 7K-LOK Russian manned lunar orbiter. 2 launches, 1971.06.26 (N-1 6L) to 1972.11.23 (LOK). The two-crew LOK lunar orbiting spacecraft was the largest derivative of Soyuz developed. More...
  • LOK Energia Russian manned lunar orbiter. Study 1988. Lunar orbiter for Energia-launched lunar expedition. The LOK and LK lander would be inserted into lunar orbit by separate Energia launches. More...

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