Russia set to launch first moon mission in almost 50 years

Russia's space agency has returned its focus to the moon, almost 50 years since the Soviet Union's last lunar landing

The Luna-25 craft is set to be launched on a Soyuz 2.1v rocket in the early hours of Friday morning (Photo: DW)
The Luna-25 craft is set to be launched on a Soyuz 2.1v rocket in the early hours of Friday morning (Photo: DW)


Russia made final preparations on Thursday, August 10, for its first spacecraft to land on the moon in 47 years.

The Luna-25 craft is set to be launched on a Soyuz 2.1v rocket in the early hours of Friday morning.

The unmanned mission will be conducted without assistance from the European Space Agency, which ended its cooperation with Russia after the invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Russia's space agency Roscosmos said the rocket would take five days to reach the moon.

The craft will then spend up to seven more days in lunar orbit before descending to one of three possible landing sites.

Searching for frozen water on the moon

The Luna-25 mission aims to be the first probe to make a soft landing on the moon's south pole — something that has eluded Russian, American, Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Israeli missions over the years.

There, it will search for frozen water by taking rock samples from a depth of up to 15 cm (6 inches) of the moon's regiolith, the layer of loose surface material.

The craft also carries a dust monitor wide-angle ionic energy-mass analyzer that will provide measurements of ion parameters in the moon's exosphere.

"From the point of view of science, the most important task, to put it simply, is to land where no one else has landed," said Maxim Litvak, head of the planning group for the Luna-25 scientific equipment.

"There are signs of ice in the soil of the Luna-25 landing area, this can be seen from the data from orbit," he added.

'The goal is political competition'

The mission also has a significant geopolitical role, according to Russian and foreign observers.

"Study of the moon is not the goal," said Vitaly Egorov, a popular Russian space analyst.

"The goal is political competition between two superpowers — China and the USA — and a number of other countries which also want to claim the title of space superpower."

Asif Siddiqi, a professor of history at Fordham University in the United States, said it was significant that Russia was attempting a new moon landing after so many decades.

"The last one was in 1976 so there's a lot riding on this," he told news agency Reuters.

"Russia's aspirations towards the moon are mixed up in a lot of different things. I think first and foremost, it's an expression of national power on the global stage."

A race with India

Luna-25 is racing to reach the moon before another space craft from India, Chandrayaan-3.

Both countries are aiming to be the first to reach the moon's south pole around August 25.

Chandrayaan-3 is due to run experiments for two weeks, while Luna-25 will work on the moon for one Earth year.

Reviving Russia's space ambitions

The Soviet Union was the first country to land on the moon in 1959. But the space race eventually shifted to Mars and other missions.

Since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has failed to send probes beyond the Earth's orbit.

Moscow has vowed to continue exploring space despite Western sanctions, and it replaced equipment from the European Space Agency with Russian-made instruments.

"Foreign electronics are lighter, domestic electronics are heavier," Egorov said.

"While scientists might have the task of studying lunar water, for Roscosmos the main task is simply to land on the moon — to recover lost Soviet expertise and learn how to perform this task in a new era."

Luna-25 is part of a wider Russian program that envisages the construction of a space station on the moon by 2040.

"We are guided by the ambition of our ancestors to move forward, despite any difficulties and despite external attempts to prevent us from moving," Russian President Vladimir Putin said last year at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, where the mission is being launched from.

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Published: 11 Aug 2023, 1:32 PM