Russia’s lunar hopes have been dashed as the Luna-25 probe, the country’s first Moon mission in about half a century, crashed on the moon’s surface during pre-landing maneuvers. This news was confirmed by the Russian space agency Roscosmos.
Russia said its robotic spacecraft crashed while attempting to land near the moon’s south pole, failing in a race with India to become the first country to reach the region.
Luna-25 was meant to mark Moscow’s return to the moon about half a century after the last Soviet mission. The spacecraft spun into an uncontrolled orbit and “ceased to exist” when it collided with the lunar surface, Russian space agency Roscosmos said Sunday in a statement.
According to Roscosmos communication with the craft was lost last Saturday.
At the same time, India’s Lunar Mission Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft is orbiting the moon and will likely attempt a landing near the pole within this week.
For Russias, the Luna-25 failure is the latest in a series of setbacks, after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 cut off launch-service revenue from many foreign satellite operators. Luna-25 was due to land on the moon’s south pole as early as Monday, but it was said on Saturday that it wasn’t able to enter its scheduled pre-landing orbit.
The lunar south pole is a highly coveted target among space-faring nations, including the US and China. Sensors from various lunar spacecraft have found evidence of water ice in craters in the region. Engineers and scientists have proposed the possibility of prospecting and maybe even mining this water ice in the future, for use in future lunar exploration and maybe even as a source of rocket fuel.
By using the Luna name for the new mission, Roscosmos linked the new probe to the achievements of the Soviet space program, which was the leader in moon exploration early in the space age before NASA overshadowed it with the Apollo missions.
The Luna-25 “is fundamentally different from its predecessors. While Soviet-era spacecraft landed near the moon’s equator, the new mission is at the lunar south pole, a “region with a much more complex terrain.”
Chandrayaan-3 launched last month, with a landing attempt possible as early as Wednesday. Unlike Luna-25, the Indian spacecraft includes a lunar rover in addition to a lander.
The Luna-25 probe, weighing in at 800 kilograms, was poised to make history with a soft landing on the moon’s south pole, an achievement that had never been accomplished before.
Russia’s last attempt to land on a celestial body dates back to 1989 — 47 years ago — when the Soviet Union’s Phobos 2 probe, intended to explore the moons of Mars, failed due to an onboard computer malfunction.