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Russia’s first lunar mission in decades ended in failure, when its Luna 25 spacecraft crashed into the lunar surface.
The incident, a blow to Russia’s space ambitions, happened after communication with the robotic spacecraft was lost.
Russian space agency Roscosmos said it lost contact with Luna 25 at 2:57 p.m. Moscow time on Saturday.
“Efforts to search for and communicate with the device on August 19 and 20 yielded no results,” the space agency said.
“According to a preliminary analysis,” Luna-25 “changed to an undesigned orbit” before the collision, Roscosmos said.
The cause of the accident was not immediately known.
The company added that a specially constituted commission will investigate the reasons behind the loss of Luna 25.
The news comes a day after the spacecraft declared an “emergency” as it attempted to enter orbit before landing, according to Roscosmos.
“During the operation, an emergency situation occurred in the automated station, which did not allow to perform the maneuver with the specified parameters,” Roscosmos shared in a Telegram post on Saturday.
The spacecraft was to complete Russia’s first lunar landing mission in 47 years. The nation’s last lunar lander, Luna 24, landed on the lunar surface on August 18, 1976.
The Luna 25 spacecraft was launched from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Amur Region on August 10, setting the vehicle on its fastest journey to the Moon.
Luna 25’s trajectory allowed it to overtake India’s Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander on its way to the lunar surface in mid-July.
Luna 25, also known as the Luna-Globe-Lander, was on a mission to study the composition of the Moon’s soil and the ultra-thin lunar exosphere, or the Moon’s thin atmosphere.
The mission’s trajectory allowed it to surpass India’s Chandrayaan-3 moon landing, which was launched in mid-July.
Both spacecraft headed towards the south pole of the moon.
Interest in the region is high because it is one of the least studied regions of the Moon. Scientists believe that water is stored on the lunar surface in the form of frozen ice in the geological region, shadow craters protected from the sun.
However, the characterization that India and Russia are racing towards the moon’s south pole is not entirely accurate, says astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, a researcher at the Harvard & Smithsonian Center. He pointed out that both projects have been in the works for more than a decade.
Initially, Roscosmos and the European Space Agency planned to partner on Luna 25, as well as Luna 26, Luna 27 and the ExoMars rover.
But that partnership was suspended in April 2022 after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the ESA Council “Stop cooperative activities With Russia.”
Luna 25 carried eight scientific instruments, including special devices called spectrometers. According to NASA, one is intended to study lunar soil, while the other will detect surface water.
India’s Chandrayaan-3, meanwhile, has a lander, propulsion module and rover — a probe capability that Russia lacks. A small, robotic vehicle could travel across the lunar surface.
Chandrayaan-3 landing will mark the country’s first successful lunar touchdown. India’s latest attempt ended in failure when Chandrayaan-2 crashed in September 2019.
Chandrayaan-3 will attempt to land on August 23, Wednesday.
Luna 25 was viewed by Roscosmos as a resource for future robotic lunar exploration missions. Several future Luna spacecraft were planned to use a similar design.
If it had been successful, Luna 25 would have marked a major breakthrough for the country’s civilian space program — which some experts say has been plagued by decades of problems — and demonstrated that it can still operate on high-end, high-stakes missions.
“They have a lot of problems with quality control, corruption, funding,” Victoria Samson, director of the Washington office of the Secure World Foundation, said during an interview on Friday.
The news that Russia had experienced problems with its spacecraft elicited an outpouring of sympathy that resonated throughout the space community.
Former NASA Science Chief Thomas Surbusen, A Social media post No one in the industry “badly likes other analysts.”
“We are reminded that landing on any celestial object is easy and straightforward,” he said in a post on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. “Just because others did it decades ago doesn’t guarantee success today.”