Luna-25 Crash: A Blow to Russia’s Space Ambitions
Russia’s much-anticipated return to lunar exploration took an unfortunate turn when their Luna 25 spacecraft crash-landed on the moon. This setback, which interrupted decades of preparation, occurred when communication with the craft was lost.
Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, reported that contact was lost with Luna 25 on a Saturday afternoon. Despite attempts over the next couple of days to reestablish communication, the agency was unsuccessful. They believe Luna-25 veered off its planned path, which might have contributed to the mishap, though the exact reasons remain unclear.
To get to the root of the issue, Roscosmos has set up a special commission to investigate the events leading up to Luna 25’s unfortunate end.
The failure came as a surprise, especially since there were hints of potential issues the day before. The spacecraft had signaled an “emergency situation” while attempting to position itself for landing. Roscosmos disclosed that an onboard issue prevented the craft from maneuvering as intended.
This mission held significant importance for Russia as it marked their first attempt to land on the moon in 47 years. The previous successful landing, by Luna 24, was way back in August 1976.
Luna 25 had embarked on its lunar journey from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia on August 10. Its speedy trajectory even allowed it to overtake India’s Chandrayaan-3, which had launched earlier in mid-July, in the race to the moon.
Made Over Decades
Luna 25, also known as the Luna-Glob-Lander, had an important mission: to analyze the moon’s soil and its faint lunar exosphere, or the delicate atmosphere, for an entire year. It managed to get ahead of India’s Chandrayaan-3, which had taken off earlier in mid-July. Both were aimed at the moon’s intriguing south pole.
This particular region has captured scientists’ attention because it’s one of the moon’s least explored territories. Plus, they suspect there’s water in the form of ice hidden in its sun-sheltered craters. Some thought there was a race between India and Russia to explore the lunar south pole, but astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell from the Center for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian, clarified that both missions had been in planning for over ten years.
Originally, the European Space Agency (ESA) was set to collaborate with Roscosmos on Luna 25 and subsequent missions like Luna 26, Luna 27, and the ExoMars rover. However, the collaboration halted in April 2022 due to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, prompting the ESA Council to break ties with Russia.
Loaded with eight scientific tools, including spectrometers designed to probe lunar soil and search for surface water, Luna 25 was well-equipped. On the other hand, India’s Chandrayaan-3 boasted a lander, propulsion module, and a rover, giving it an explorative edge that Luna 25 lacked. This rover is designed to roam and inspect the moon’s terrain.
If all goes well, Chandrayaan-3 could provide India with its first successful lunar landing. Their previous attempt with Chandrayaan-2 in September 2019 didn’t go as planned, ending in a crash. Eyes are now on Chandrayaan-3, which is set for its landing attempt on Wednesday, August 23.
The Russian Space Program’s Stakes
Luna 25 wasn’t just another mission for Roscosmos; it was seen as a foundational step for their future lunar robotic exploration. The design of Luna 25 was set to be a blueprint for upcoming Luna spacecraft.
Had Luna 25 achieved its goals, it would’ve been a game-changer for Russia’s space program, which many believe has been facing challenges for years. Victoria Samson from the Secure World Foundation remarked on some of these challenges, noting issues ranging from quality control and corruption to funding constraints.
Yet, the news of Russia’s spacecraft troubles stirred empathy within the global space community. Thomas Zurbuchen, a former top figure at NASA, shared heartfelt words on a social media platform, X (previously known as Twitter). He emphasized that the space exploration community never roots for others’ failures. In his words, landing on any celestial body remains a formidable task. Just because it’s been done in the past doesn’t guarantee a smooth ride today.