Russia has launched its first mission to the moon in nearly 5 decades.
The launch of the Luna-25 craft to the moon on Friday, August 11, 2023, was Russia’s first since 1976 when it was part of the Soviet Union.
It was conducted without assistance from the European Space Agency.
The European Space Agency had planned to test its Pilot-D navigation camera by attaching it to Luna-25, but cut its ties to the project after Russia invaded Ukraine.
Sanctions imposed on Russia after it invaded Ukraine make it harder for it to access Western technology, impacting its space program.
The lunar launch, which Russia has been planning for decades, will also test the nation’s growing independence in space after its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine brought an end to nearly all of Moscow’s space cooperation with the West, besides its integral role on the International Space Station.
According to live images broadcast by the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, the launch from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Far East took place at 2:10am Moscow time on Friday (23:10 GMT Thursday).
Roscosmos announced that it wants to show that Russia “is a state capable of delivering a payload to the moon,” and “ensure Russia’s guaranteed access to the moon’s surface.”
The four-legged lander weighs approximately 800kg (1,750 pounds) and is due to reach lunar orbit in five days.
It will then spend between three and seven days choosing the right spot before landing in the lunar south pole area.
The Russian lunar mission is racing against India, which launched its Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander on July 14, 2023.
Russia’s lander is expected to reach the moon’s surface on August 23, 2023, around the same time as the Indian space craft.
Both countries’ modules are headed for the lunar south pole, an area where no spacecraft has landed smoothly.
A previous Indian attempt to land at the moon’s south pole in 2019 ended when the lander crashed into the moon’s surface.
Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, disclosed that the module would operate for one year and “take and analyse soil samples and conduct long-term scientific research” on lunar surface material and the atmosphere.
Russia, India, China and U.S have programmes looking to target the lunar south pole, where it is hoped there could be water particles.
Only three governments have managed successful moon landings; the Soviet Union, the United States and China.
A Political Competition Between Superpowers
Vitaly Egorov, a popular Russian space analyst, opined that the “Study of the moon is not the goal” for Russia’s moon mission.
“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.”Vitaly Egorov
“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.”Vitaly Egorov
The lunar south pole is of particular interest to scientists, who believe the polar craters may contain water. The frozen water in the rocks could be turned into air and rocket fuel by future explorers.
Asif Siddiqi, Professor of history at Fordham University, also told a news agency, “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.”