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Russia’s Luna-25 lunar mission ends in crash caused by engine failure

  • Russia's space agency Roscosmos confirmed on Monday that its Luna-25 spacecraft crashed on the moon due to engine failure.
  • The Luna-25, an unmanned mission intended to be the first to land on the moon's south pole, suffered a mishap in its attempt to land.
  • The spacecraft's engines failed to properly shut down after powering up into a “runway,” causing it to crash onto the lunar surface.

The head of Russia's space agency said Monday that the Luna-25 spacecraft crashed onto the moon after its engines failed to shut down properly, blaming the country's decades-long lunar exploration hiatus for the mishap.

The unmanned Luna-25 was scheduled to land on Monday, becoming the first spacecraft to land at the moon's south pole, an area where scientists suspect there may be important reserves of frozen water and precious elements.

Roscosmos Director General Yuri Borissov said the spacecraft's engines were turned on over the weekend to place Luna-25 in a “pre-landing orbit” but were improperly shut down, causing the lander to be ejected onto the moon be.

“Instead of the planned 84 seconds, it worked for 127 seconds. That was the main reason for the emergency,” Borissov told Russia's state news channel Russia 24.

Roscosmos was in contact with the spacecraft until 2:57 p.m. local time Saturday, when communications were lost and “the device entered open lunar orbit and crashed to the lunar surface,” he said.

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The lunar mission was Russia's first since 1976, when it was still part of the Soviet Union. Only three countries managed to land successfully on the moon: the Soviet Union, the USA and China.

“The negative experiences with the almost 50-year suspension of the lunar program are the main reason for the failures,” said Borisov, adding: “It would be the worst decision ever” if Russia ended the program now.

The Luna-25 was in a race with an Indian spacecraft launched on July 14 to be the first to reach the South Pole. Both should reach the moon between August 21st and 23rd.

A previous Indian attempt to land at the moon's south pole in 2019 ended with the spacecraft crashing onto the lunar surface.

Luna-25 was launched on Aug 10 from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia's Far East. The Cosmodrome is a pet project of Russian President Vladimir Putin and is key to his efforts to make Russia a space superpower.

Space crash in Russia

This photo released on Thursday, August 17, 2023 by Roscosmos State Space Corporation shows an image of the lunar south polar region on the moon's far side taken by Russia's Luna-25 spacecraft before its failed attempt to land. (Center for Operation of Space Ground-Based Infrastructure – Roscosmos State Space Corporation via AP)

Before the launch, Roskosmos said it wanted to show that Russia is “a state capable of transporting a payload to the moon” and “ensure Russia's guaranteed access to the lunar surface.”

After the crash, Russia's space agency said the lunar mission was about ensuring long-term “defensibility” and “technological sovereignty.”

“The race to develop the moon's natural resources has begun,” Borisov said on Monday. “The moon will be an ideal platform for space exploration in the future.”

The sanctions imposed on Russia since the country launched a war in Ukraine nearly 18 months ago have impacted its space program and made it harder to access Western technology.

The Luna-25 was originally intended to carry a small lunar rover, but the idea of ​​reducing the spacecraft's weight to increase reliability was abandoned, analysts said.


The moon's south pole is of particular interest to scientists, who believe the permanently shadowed polar craters may contain frozen water in the rocks that future explorers could convert into air and rocket fuel.

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