Russia’s First Moon Mission In Decades Ends In Failure

Russia’s first Moon mission since 1976 ends in failure as spacecraft spins out of control and crashes into lunar surface

Russia’s first lunar mission since 1976 has ended in failure after the lander spun out of control and crashed into the Moon while preparing to enter orbit.

The country’s space organisation Roscosmos said it had lost contact with the Luna-25 spacecraft at 11:57 GMT on Saturday ahead of a planned soft landing on Monday.

“The measures taken on 19 and 20 August to search for the device and get into contact with it did not yield any results,” the agency said in a statement.

It said its “preliminary analysis” was that Luna-25 had “switched to an off-design orbit” and then crashed.

Soyuz rocket launch at Baikonur Cosmodrome, November 2013. Image credit: NASA
Soyuz rocket launch at Baikonur Cosmodrome, November 2013. Image credit: NASA

‘Unpredictable orbit’

“The apparatus moved into an unpredictable orbit and ceased to exist as a result of a collision with the surface of the Moon,” Roscosmos said.

It said a specially formed commission would investigate the incident.

Roscosmos had said in an earlier statement on Telegram that an “emergency situation” had prevented Luna-25 from entering orbit “with the specified parameters”.

Russia’s previous lander, Luna-24, landed on the Moon’s surface on 18 August, 1976.

Luna-25 Roscosmos Image credit Roscosmos 02 Russia
Image credit: Roscosmos

Space race

The latest probe launched on 10 August and swiftly overtook India’s Chandrayaan-3 lander, which like Luna-25 is also intended to land on the Moon’s south pole, a possible source of water for future missions.

Chandrayaan-3 is planned to touch down on 23 August and to carry out experiments for two weeks.

The Moon’s south pole presents rugged terrain that is more challenging for a lander than the equator, where most missions have touched down to date.

But the area could contain ice that could prove valuable as a source of fuel or drinking water. Luna-25 had been intended to use a scoop to test for frozen water to a depth of 6 inches.

Troubled history

The mission was originally planned for October 2021, but was delayed nearly two years.

The ESA had originally planned to attach its Pilot-D camera to the lander, but ended its collaboration with Roscosmos following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February.

Russia was a pioneer in space exploration in the Soviet era but the failed mission is a sign of how it currently lags in the space race amidst intense competition from countries including China, Japan and the United States.