Russia’s first mission to the Moon since 1976, when it was still part of the Soviet Union, ended in failure after its unmanned Luna-25 spacecraft went out of control and crashed into the lunar surface.
The vehicle was scheduled to land on the south pole of the moon on Monday.
The setback for Russia’s cash-strapped space agency, Roscosmos, underscores the decline of Russia’s space program since its Cold War peak when the Soviet Union was the first to put a person into space.
Luna-25 was launched from Earth earlier this month, and Russia hopes to become the first country to land on the moon’s south pole. Once there, the lunar probe mission was supposed to spend a year studying the moon’s surface and outer atmosphere and conducting other research, according to the “Financial Times” and “Al Arabiya.net” reviewed it.
But on Saturday afternoon, when the spacecraft was transitioning from a circular orbit about 100 kilometers above the lunar surface to a pre-landing orbit, communication was lost.
The space agency said that the booster rocket that was supposed to put the spacecraft on course pushed it off course.
“According to the results of the preliminary analysis, due to the deviation of the actual parameters of the boost from the calculated ones, the Luna-25 spacecraft moved to an uncalculated orbit,” Roscosmos said in a statement. Then it “disappeared as a result of hitting the surface of the moon.”
“The procedures carried out on August 19 and 20 to search for and communicate with the spacecraft did not produce any results,” he added, adding that an interdepartmental committee was formed to investigate the accident.
Luna-25 launched on August 10 from Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East and was the country’s first mission to the Moon since 1976, when the Soviet Union launched Luna 24. This robotic probe successfully returned to Earth, bringing samples of lunar soil for scientists. to study it.
On the Luna-25 mission, Russia has been racing to beat India, whose Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft is approaching the moon’s south pole and is scheduled to land on Wednesday.
The Luna-25 crash raises doubts about the future of Russia’s space programme, especially at a time when the country is locked in a draining and costly war in Ukraine, where sanctions and international disdain for its invasion have cut off access to Western technology and research.
Russian business newspaper RBC quoted Alexander Zheleznyakov, an expert in the rocket and space industry and historian of astronauts, as saying: “Any space failure pre-affects the future plans of a particular country or program.”
“In our case, we will most likely have to change the approach to creating new landers, because over the 47 years that have passed since the launch of the previous probe, a lot has changed,” said Zheleznyakov. “Science has advanced and technology has advanced, and unfortunately over the years we have somewhat lost our proficiency in interplanetary missions and landing on other planets.”
“We will have to moderate our ambitions somewhat and realize that we will have to learn everything again,” he added.
Meanwhile, 90-year-old Mikhail Marov, a leading figure in the Soviet space program, was taken to hospital from the shock of hearing about the Luna-25 crash, which he described as his “life’s work.”
“It’s sad that it wasn’t possible to land the device,” he told the magazine. “For me, it may be the last hope for reviving our lunar program.”