Russia said its robotic spacecraft crashed while attempting to land near the moon’s south pole, failing in a race with India to become the first country to reach the region.
Luna-25 was meant to mark Moscow’s return to the moon nearly half a century after the last Soviet mission. The spacecraft spun into an uncontrolled orbit and “ceased to exist” when it collided with the moon’s surface, Russian space agency Roscosmos said Sunday in a statement, citing preliminary results of investigation.
Communication with the craft was lost on Saturday, Roscosmos said.
Meanwhile, India’s Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft is orbiting the moon and will likely attempt a landing near the pole this week.
For Roscosmos, the Luna-25 failure is the latest in a series of setbacks, after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 cut off launch-service revenue from many foreign satellite operators. Luna-25 was due to land on the moon’s south pole as early as Monday, but Roscosmos said on Saturday that it wasn’t able to enter its scheduled pre-landing orbit.
The lunar south pole is a highly coveted target among space-faring nations, including the US and China. Sensors from various lunar spacecraft have found evidence of water ice in craters in the region. Engineers and scientists have proposed the possibility of prospecting and maybe even mining this water ice in the future, for use in future lunar exploration and maybe even as a source of rocket fuel.
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By using the Luna name for new mission, Roscosmos linked the new probe to the achievements of the Soviet space program, which was the leader in moon exploration early in the space age before NASA overshadowed it with the Apollo missions.
The USSR’s Luna program attempted nearly 50 missions between 1958 and 1976, of which only 17 were successful. Those included Luna-2, the first spacecraft to reach the moon’s surface, and Luna-3, the first to take pictures from the far side of the moon, both in 1959.
The Luna-25 “is fundamentally different from its predecessors,” Roscosmos said in a post on Telegram last week. While Soviet-era spacecraft landed near the moon’s equator, the new mission is at the lunar south pole, a “region with a much more complex terrain.”
Chandrayaan-3 launched last month, with a landing attempt possible as early as Wednesday. Unlike Luna-25, the Indian spacecraft includes a lunar rover in addition to a lander.
India’s previous moon mission, Chandrayaan-2, ended in a crash near the lunar south pole in 2019.
— With assistance by Loren Grush