On Sunday, a day after losing touch with the ship, Russia’s space agency announced the early findings of an inquiry into the crash of a Russian robotic spacecraft that was its route to the lunar surface.
This marks yet another setback for Russia, which as the Soviet Union during the Cold War was the first country to launch a satellite, followed by a human, and finally a female astronaut into space.
Russia’s first lunar space launch since the 1970s, the Luna-25 lander, entered lunar orbit last Wednesday and was scheduled to land as soon as Monday. According to Roscosmos, the state organization that manages Russia’s space activities, the spacecraft’s engine was fired at 2:10 p.m. on Saturday afternoon Moscow time to enter an orbit that would prepare it for a lunar landing.
However, a “emergency situation” happened for no apparent reason. On Sunday, Roscosmos announced that 47 minutes after the engine firing began, contact with the spacecraft was lost. Luna-25 had veered off its intended orbit and ceased its existence as a result of a collision with the lunar surface,” Roscosmos reported, despite repeated attempts to restore contact.
The tweet below verifies the news:
Russia’s Luna-25 spacecraft has crashed into the moon, reports Germany’s DW News citing space corporation Roskosmos pic.twitter.com/ZtxYkFHUp2
— ANI (@ANI) August 20, 2023
It was also said that a commission consisting of representatives from several government agencies will be established to determine what went wrong. The goal of the August 11 launch of Luna-25 was to make it the first trip to the moon’s south polar zone. Many people on Earth are curious about that region of the moon because they think it might contain water ice that astronauts could use in the future.
The major goal of Luna-25 was to test lunar landing technologies, therefore the lander’s loss during a less perilous phase of the project only draws further attention to Russia’s space woes. Launching the rocket from Earth and touching down on the lunar surface are the two most nerve-wracking parts of any journey to the moon.
India, an Israeli organization, and a Japanese firm have all made successful orbital maneuvers around the moon in the previous four years, but their landing attempts have all ended prematurely in the final minutes before touching down on the lunar surface.
Poor quality control and testing are usually to blame when orbital engine firings result in mission failure. Russia’s final large robotic interplanetary probe, Phobos-Grunt, failed in 2011 due to these same technical flaws. In 1999, NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter burned up in the Martian atmosphere due to a conversion error between metric and imperial units, which was an example of an embarrassing human blunder.
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President Vladimir V. Putin has utilized space accomplishments as part of his power base, therefore the mission’s failure could be a blow to him. The Kremlin’s story, which many Russians find convincing, is that their country is wonderful but is being held back by a West led by the United States that is envious of and threatened by Russia’s skills.
In Russia’s efforts to reshape its international alliances, the state-run space sector has been especially useful. Russia’s space program chief Yuri Borisov told Mr. Putin in a June televised meeting, “The interest in our proposals is very high.” This was in reference to Russia’s plan to increase space cooperation with African countries.
Despite European and American sanctions, the project is part of the Kremlin’s larger aim to strengthen economic and political ties with non-Western countries. Russia’s space program has declined significantly from the Soviet era’s high point to the present day.
More over 35 years have passed since the last genuine success, back when the Soviet Union was still functional. Both the Vega 1 and Vega 2 spacecraft were identical and were launched six days apart. After orbiting for six months, both spacecraft passed by Venus, releasing capsules including a lander that safely touched down on the hellish planet’s surface and a balloon that drifted through the atmosphere.
During their March 1986 flyby of Halley’s comet, the two spacecraft came within roughly 5,000 miles of the comet’s nucleus, allowing for close-up imaging and analysis of the comet’s dust and gas. The 1988 and 1996 Mars missions both ended in failure.
Phobos-Grunt, launched in 2011, was meant to touch down on Phobos, the larger of Mars’ two moons, and return to Earth carrying samples of rock and mud. Phobos-Grunt was supposed to travel to Mars, but its engines never started, hence it never left Earth’s orbit. Atmospheric reentry a few months later led to its destruction.
Russia’s cash-strapped space agency used equipment that had not been tested in extreme temperatures and radiation to save money, according to a later inquiry. Except for its cooperation with NASA to run the International Space Station, Russia has never been further than low Earth orbit.
During its yearlong mission, Luna-25 was supposed to analyze the moon’s surface materials. Technology that would have been utilized in a series of robotic flights to the moon that Russia hopes to undertake to prepare for a future lunar outpost that it plans to establish with China was also scheduled to have been showcased.
However, the timeline for those missions (Luna 26, 27, and 28) has already slipped years behind the original schedule, and further delays are likely as the Russian space program struggles financially and technologically due to sanctions imposed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
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Roscosmos will have to make a tough choice between retrying the Luna-25 mission or moving on to more daring follow-up missions without first testing the landing technology. Additional waiting time of several years is to be expected if Russia decides to re-fly Luna-25.
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, NASA and the European Space Agency suspended several of their collaborative space programs with Russia, but cooperation on the International Space Station has continued. As a result, Russia must source alternative components—like a drill for the Luna-27 lander—that were originally slated to come from Europe in order to carry out the lunar missions.
Russia has had a hard time creating new space technology, notably electronics that can withstand space’s extreme environments. “You cannot really fly in space, or, at least, fly in space for a long time, without better electronics,” said Anatoly Zak, who publishes RussianSpaceWeb.com, which tracks Russia’s space activities.
“The Soviet electronics were always backwards. They were always behind the West in this area of science and technology.” He added: “The entire Russian space program is actually affected by this issue.” It will certainly take considerably longer than the official statements to accomplish the other ambitious Russian space initiatives that are likewise behind schedule.
The Angara rocket family has been in development for over 20 years, yet there have only been six successful launches so far. Russian space station architect Vladimir Kozhevnikov recently informed Interfax that the next-generation Soyuz capsule, called Oryol, would launch for the first time in 2028.
Dmitry Rogozin, the former head of Roscosmos, predicted in 2020 that Oryol’s first flight would occur in 2023. This means that the launch schedule has slid by five years in just three years. India will be the second nation to have the honor of landing the first probe near the south pole of the Moon.
In July, it launched Chandrayaan-3, a mission that would take a more circuitous but fuel-efficient route to the moon. Wednesday is the day they plan to try to land. “It’s unfortunate,” Sudheer Kumar, a spokesman for the Indian Space Research Organization, said about the Russian lander’s crash. “Every space mission is very risky and highly technical.”
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