Russia To Launch First Moon Mission Since 1976

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

Russia set to launch first lunar lander mission since 1976 this week as it targets south pole water exploration

Russia is to launch its first lunar lander since 1976 on Friday, in a long-delayed mission that saw a split with former partners at the European Space Agency (ESA) after Russia invaded Ukraine last year.

Roscosmos said engineers had assembled a  Soyuz rocket for the lunar mission at the Vostochny cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East, near the Chinese border.

“The Luna-25 will have to practise soft landing, take and analyse soil samples and conduct long-term scientific research,” the space agency said in a statement.

The four-legged lander, which weighs about 1,750 pounds, is intended to touch down at one of three possible landing sites near the Moon’s south pole.

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

South pole

Roscosmos said the spacecraft would take five days to fly to the Moon and would then spend five to seven days in orbit before touching down.

The lander timing is similar to that of India’s Chandrayaan-3, which launched four weeks ago and is intended to touch down in the south pole area on 23 August.

Roscosmos said the missions were targeting different areas of the Moon and that there was no danger they would interfere with one another.

India’s mission is intended to run experiments for two weeks, while Luna-25 is to carry out work for a year.

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

Water source

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 is to use a scoop to test for frozen water to a depth of 6 inches.

The current mission was originally planned for October 2021, but has been 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 the Ukraine invasion last February.

Space race

Russian authorities said they would evacuate the 26 inhabitants of the village of Shakhtinsky near the cosmodrome for a period of 3 1/2 hours due to a low chance that one of the stages of the Soyuz rocket launcher may fall to earth there.

Russia was a pioneer in space exploration in the Soviet era but currently lags in the space race amidst intense competition from countries including China, Japan and the United States.