Russia’s space agency recently reported a setback in its ambitious lunar exploration efforts. The Luna-25 moon lander, Russia’s first attempt in 47 years, experienced a crash landing on the lunar surface. This unfortunate incident occurred due to a miscalculated orbital maneuver.
The incident took place on Sunday, August 20th, as Luna-25 was expected to touch down on the moon’s south pole by Monday, August 21st.
Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, stated that communication with the spacecraft was lost around 14:57 Moscow time.
Despite efforts to reestablish contact on August 19th and 20th, the mission’s communication remained unresponsive.
A preliminary analysis by Roscosmos indicates that an incorrect orbital maneuver led to Luna-25 deviating from its intended path. This deviation caused the spacecraft to collide with the lunar surface, resulting in the loss of the mission.
Luna-25 held significant importance for Russia’s space exploration aspirations. Since the Soviet era, Russia has not undertaken a lunar probe like this.
The previous attempt was the Luna-24 mission in 1976. In contrast, Luna-25 was designed to explore the moon’s south pole, with the primary objective of searching for water ice over the course of a year.
The mission began on August 10th, with Luna-25 successfully entering lunar orbit by August 16th.
The spacecraft provided captivating in-space images, including selfies with the moon and the Earth in the background. Its designated landing site was the Boguslawsky Crater, while two alternative sites were also identified: southwest of Manzini Crater and south of Pentland A Crater.
Luna-25’s scientific goals encompassed various tasks. Apart from the quest for water ice, the mission aimed to analyze the lunar regolith and rocks nearby.
It also sought to study the faint lunar atmosphere and test technologies for future lunar landings.
NPO Lavochkin, a Russian aerospace company, led the design and construction of Luna-25. The lander consisted of two primary components: a landing platform equipped with a propulsion system, and landing gear featuring velocity and range measurement tools for a safe touchdown.
Additionally, the lander housed a non-pressurized instrument container containing solar panels, radiators, antennas, television cameras, a power source, and scientific instruments.
The failure of Luna-25 represents a setback for Russia’s broader lunar exploration plans. The country aimed to follow up this landing with a lunar orbiter called Luna-26, followed by two more landing missions: Luna-27, which intended to deploy a drilling rig on the moon, and Luna-28, a mission to collect samples from the moon’s polar regions.
Unfortunately, the timeline for these subsequent missions will likely be postponed due to the failure of Luna-25. Roscosmos is actively investigating the root cause of the crash. This mission had already encountered delays due to technical issues and sanctions related to Russia’s conflict with Ukraine.
In response to the crash, Roscosmos has assembled a dedicated team to probe into the causes behind Luna-25’s failure. A special interdepartmental commission will lead the investigation to determine the exact reasons for the loss of the spacecraft.
Interestingly, Luna-25 was not the only mission aimed at exploring the moon’s south pole. India’s Chandrayaan 3 lander was also on a trajectory to land in that region around August 23rd or 24th.
Furthermore, NASA has its sights set on the moon’s south pole as a crucial aspect of its Artemis program. This initiative seeks to establish a human presence on the moon in the next decade.
NASA plans to land the crewed Artemis 3 mission in that vicinity, with Artemis 2 anticipated to orbit the moon with a crew by late 2024. The agency is also funding several commercial lunar lander projects, with some expected to arrive as early as late 2023.