August 21, 2023
Russia's attempt at its first moon mission in nearly five decades ended in failure, as the Luna-25 spacecraft lost control and collided with the moon due to issues during pre-landing orbit preparation. This incident highlights the decline of Russia's once-potent space program in the post-Soviet era.
Roskosmos, Russia's state space agency, reported a loss of communication with the spacecraft at 11:57 GMT on Saturday. This occurred following an issue during the spacecraft's manoeuvre into pre-landing orbit. The originally scheduled soft landing on Monday had to be abandoned.
Roskosmos stated that due to an unexpected orbital trajectory, the spacecraft encountered a collision with the moon's surface, leading to its disintegration and discontinuation.
A special inter-departmental committee has been established to investigate the factors contributing to the Luna-25 spacecraft's failure. The mission of Luna-25 had generated expectations in Moscow that Russia was re-joining the global competition for lunar exploration among major nations.
The incident highlighted Russia's diminishing influence in space since the era of Cold War rivalry, during which Moscow achieved significant milestones like launching the first Earth-orbiting satellite, Sputnik 1, in 1957, and sending Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin as the first human into space in 1961.
This situation arises amidst Russia's $2 trillion economy confronting one of its most substantial external difficulties in decades, contending with the dual pressures of Western sanctions and engagement in the largest land conflict in Europe since World War Two.
Russia had refrained from undertaking a lunar mission since Luna-24 in 1976, a period during which the Kremlin was under the leadership of Communist figurehead Leonid Brezhnev.
Russia has been in a competitive race with India, whose Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft is set to achieve a lunar South Pole landing this week. Additionally, Russia is contending on a larger scale against China and the United States, both of which possess ambitious lunar exploration plans.
Around the time news about the Luna spacecraft crash emerged, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announced on X (previously known as Twitter) that Chandrayaan-3 is scheduled for a moon landing on August 23rd.
Russian authorities had anticipated that the Luna-25 mission could demonstrate Russia's capability to contend with space superpowers, even in the face of its decline after the Soviet era and the significant expenses associated with the conflict in Ukraine.
Anatoly Zak, the creator and publisher of www.RussianSpaceWeb.com, a site monitoring Russian space programs, noted that the flight control system faced numerous necessary adjustments. He pointed out that Russia deviated from the conventional approach of attempting a simpler orbital mission before a more complex moon landing, a practice followed by the Soviet Union, the United States, China, and India.
Russian researchers have frequently expressed concerns about the space program being undermined by ineffective leadership focused on impractical ambitious space endeavours, corruption, and a deterioration in the thoroughness of Russia's scientific education system since the Soviet era.
Over ten years in the past, the 2011 Fobos-Grunt mission's failure to reach one of Mars' moons highlighted the difficulties confronting Russia's space program. The mission was unable to escape Earth's orbit, ultimately re-entering the atmosphere and crashing into the Pacific Ocean in 2012.
The failure implies that Russia might lose the opportunity to be the first to collect frozen water from the moon's southern pole, a substance that scientists believe is present there.
The potential long-term repercussions of the unsuccessful mission on the nation's moon program, which includes multiple upcoming missions in the years ahead, remain uncertain at the moment.