Russia initiates the launch of a lunar lander
On Friday, Russia initiated its inaugural moon-landing spacecraft after 47 years, aiming to secure the pioneering position as the initial country to successfully land softly on the southern pole of the moon – a zone speculated to possess valuable reservoirs of water ice.
Russia’s latest lunar endeavor, marking the first mission since 1976, is engaged in a competitive race against India, which introduced its Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander just the previous month. Moreover, it is in a broader competition with the United States and China, both of which are actively pursuing sophisticated lunar exploration initiatives with a specific focus on the moon’s southern pole.
A Soyuz 2.1v rocket launched the Luna-25 spacecraft from the Vostochny cosmodrome, situated 3,450 miles (5,550 km) east of Moscow. The launch took place at 2:11 a.m. Moscow time on Friday (1111 GMT on Thursday). After more than an hour, the rocket’s upper stage propelled the lander beyond Earth’s orbit toward the moon. Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, confirmed these details.
According to Russia’s space chief Yuri Borisov, the lander is anticipated to make contact with the moon on August 21. Initially, Roscosmos had indicated August 23 as the projected landing date.
“We’re anticipating the 21st, hoping for an accurately executed gentle lunar touchdown,” Borisov informed Vostochny cosmodrome staff post-launch, as reported by Interfax.
Russia initiates the launch of a lunar lander
Luna-25, approximately the dimensions of a compact car, is intended to function for about a year on the southern pole of the moon. This area has been of interest to NASA and other space organizations due to the identification of indications of water ice within the shadowed craters in recent times.
The success of the Luna-25 mission carries significant weight, as the Kremlin asserts that the West’s sanctions related to the Ukraine conflict, which have specifically impacted Moscow’s aerospace sector, have not effectively weakened the Russian economy.
The long-planned moonshot, indicative of Russia’s self-reliance in space, takes on added importance following its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, which severed most of Moscow’s space connections with the West, aside from its participation in the International Space Station.
Originally, the European Space Agency intended to incorporate its Pilot-D navigation camera into Luna-25, but it disengaged from the project following Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
“Russia’s lunar aspirations are tied to various factors,” noted Asif Siddiqi, a history professor at Fordham University. Primarily, it serves as a demonstration of the nation’s global influence.”
In 1969, Neil Armstrong, a U.S. astronaut, became famous as the initial person to step onto the moon. However, preceding this, the Soviet Union achieved the first spacecraft landing on the moon’s surface in 1959 with the Luna-2 mission. Furthermore, in 1966, the Luna-9 mission achieved the first successful soft landing on the moon.
Afterward, Moscow shifted its attention towards investigating Mars. Since the decline of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia hasn’t dispatched scientific probes beyond the earth’s orbit.
Lately, prominent global players such as the United States, China, India, Japan, and the European Union have actively participated in lunar exploration. In the past year, Japan’s moon landing attempt failed, mirroring a similar outcome from an Israeli mission in 2019.
Up to this point, no nation has achieved a successful soft landing at the moon’s south pole. A 2019 Indian endeavor named Chandrayaan-2 also faced challenges.
The complex terrain at this location poses obstacles for landings. However, the potential discovery of water ice holds immense significance. If located, this resource could have historical implications. Water ice could serve as a valuable source for fuel, oxygen extraction, and drinking water.
“Viewed through a scientific lens, the primary objective, to simplify, involves touching down in previously unexplored territory,” remarked Maxim Litvak, leader of the Luna-25 scientific equipment planning team.
He also mentioned, “Evidence of ice within the soil of the designated Luna-25 landing zone is discernible from orbital data.” He further stated that Luna-25’s operations on the moon would span at least a year on Earth, during which it would gather samples.
Roscosmos announced a projected five-day journey to the moon, followed by a lunar orbit lasting 5-7 days before descending to a possible landing site near the pole. This schedule suggests it could potentially beat its Indian counterpart to the moon’s surface. In contrast, Chandrayaan-3 is set to conduct experiments over a two-week period. Weighing 1.8 tons and carrying 31 kg of scientific instruments, Luna-25 will employ a scoop mechanism to extract rock samples up to 15 cm deep, examining them for frozen water. Reporting by Eryque Micheal-Next Africa News Reporter.