Russia’s Moon Lander Failure: A Setback or a Motivation?

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Russia’s space agency Roscosmos has announced that its Luna-25 spacecraft, which was supposed to land on the Moon’s south pole, has crashed into the lunar surface. The mission, which was launched on August 10, 2023, was the first attempt by Russia to reach the Moon since 1976. The crash has raised questions about the future of Russia’s space program and its ambitions to explore the lunar resources.

What went wrong with Luna-25?

According to Roscosmos, Luna-25 encountered an “emergency situation” on August 19, when it failed to perform a maneuver to lower its orbit around the Moon. As a result, the spacecraft lost contact with the ground control and spun into an unpredictable orbit. On August 20, Roscosmos confirmed that Luna-25 had “ceased to exist as a result of a collision with the lunar surface”.

The exact cause of the failure is still under investigation, but some experts have suggested that it could be due to a software glitch, a hardware malfunction, or a collision with space debris. The crash has been described as a “huge disappointment” by Simeon Barber, a planetary scientist at the Open University in Milton Keynes, UK, who was part of a European collaboration with Russia on lunar missions that ended last year.

How does this affect Russia’s space plans?

Luna-25 was supposed to be the first of a series of missions that would explore the Moon’s south pole, where water ice is thought to be abundant and could be used as a resource for future human settlements. The spacecraft was equipped with various instruments, including a robotic arm, to dig up to 50 centimeters into the lunar soil and analyze its composition.

Russia’s Moon Lander Failure

The mission was also seen as a way for Russia to reassert its presence in the space race, after being overshadowed by the achievements of other countries such as China, India, and the United States. Russia has not sent any humans to space since 2010, and has faced several setbacks in its space program, such as launch failures, corruption scandals, and international sanctions.

However, Russia has not given up on its lunar ambitions. Roscosmos has announced that it will continue with its planned missions Luna-26 through Luna-28, which will aim to orbit, land, and return samples from the Moon in the next decade. The agency has also expressed interest in collaborating with China on building a lunar research station.

How did Russia react to the crash?

Despite the failure of Luna-25, Russia has maintained a positive attitude and a determination to overcome the challenges. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the crash was not a reason to despair or tear their hair out, but rather an incentive to analyze the causes and eliminate them next time. He added that “the way to the stars is through thorns”.

Some Russian media outlets have also tried to put a positive spin on the crash, by highlighting the achievements of previous Soviet lunar missions and comparing them with the difficulties faced by other countries in landing on the Moon. For instance, one article noted that India’s Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft had also failed to land on the Moon’s south pole on August 23, and that China’s Chang’e-4 rover had encountered technical problems on the far side of the Moon.

However, some critics have questioned the validity of Russia’s space program and its ability to compete with other nations. For instance, Bleddyn Bowen, a space-policy specialist at the University of Leicester, UK, said that Luna-25’s crash was “the most spectacular example of the problems that have plagued the Russian space sector for many years now”. He added that he did not know how Russia would come back from this.

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