Russia’s first robotic moon mission in nearly 50 years ended in failure on Sunday, when the Luna-25 probe crashed into the lunar surface after a thruster misfire. The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, announced the news on its Telegram channel, saying that the spacecraft deviated from its planned orbit and lost contact with Earth.
The Luna-25 mission was supposed to land near the moon’s south pole, a region of scientific interest because of the possible presence of water ice in permanently shadowed craters. The probe was equipped with a drill, a spectrometer, a camera, and other instruments to study the lunar soil and environment.
The mission was also seen as a way for Russia to reassert its presence in space exploration, after decades of setbacks and failures in its planetary programs. Russia was the first country to land a spacecraft on the moon in 1959, but it never sent any humans there. Its last successful lunar mission was Luna-24, which returned a sample of moon rocks to Earth in 1976.
What went wrong with Luna-25?
According to Roscosmos, the problems with Luna-25 began during an orbit adjustment maneuver on Saturday, when the spacecraft’s main engine did not fire as expected. The agency said it managed to correct the orbit using backup thrusters, but the error caused a delay in the landing sequence.
On Sunday, another thruster firing went awry, putting the spacecraft in an unpredictable orbit and cutting off communications with ground control. Roscosmos said it tried to re-establish contact with Luna-25, but to no avail. The agency concluded that the probe collided with the moon at high speed and was destroyed.
The exact cause of the thruster failure is still unknown, but Roscosmos said it will investigate the incident and learn from the mistakes. The agency also expressed its gratitude to all the scientists and engineers who worked on the Luna-25 project, and said it will continue its lunar exploration plans with future missions.
How does this affect the global space race?
The failure of Luna-25 is a major blow for Russia’s ambitions to compete with other countries in the new space race. The United States, China, India, Japan, and the private sector are all planning multiple moon missions that could lay the foundations for lunar bases and eventual flights to Mars.
The moon’s south pole is particularly attractive for these missions, because of its potential resources and strategic location. Water ice could be used to produce drinking water, oxygen, and rocket fuel for astronauts and spacecraft. The south pole also offers more sunlight and less temperature variation than other parts of the moon.
Russia is not alone in facing challenges in reaching the moon’s south pole. India’s Chandrayaan-2 mission crashed during its landing attempt in 2019 due to a software error. India is now preparing to launch Chandrayaan-3, which is expected to land on Wednesday. China has also announced plans to send taikonauts (Chinese astronauts) to the moon’s south pole by 2030.
NASA’s Artemis program aims to land the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024, and establish a sustainable human presence there by 2030. NASA has also selected several private companies, such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, to develop lunar landers and rovers for its missions.
The competition for lunar exploration is likely to intensify in the coming years, as more countries and companies join the fray. Russia’s Luna-25 failure may be a setback, but it is not a defeat. The moon still holds many secrets and opportunities for discovery and innovation.