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Russian space agency says its Luna-25 spacecraft has crashed into the moon

The apparatus moved into an unpredictable orbit and ceased to exist as a result of a collision with the surface of the moon, read a statement from the agency

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AP Moscow

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Russia's robot lander the Luna-25 spacecraft crashed into the moon after it had spun into uncontrolled orbit, the country's space agency Roscosmos reported on Sunday.

The apparatus moved into an unpredictable orbit and ceased to exist as a result of a collision with the surface of the moon, read a statement from the agency.

Roscosmos said it lost contact with the spacecraft on Saturday after it ran into trouble while preparing for its pre-landing orbit after reporting an abnormal situation that its specialists were analysing.

During the operation, an abnormal situation occurred on board the automatic station, which did not allow the maneuver to be performed with the specified parameters, the agency said in a Telegram post.

The spacecraft was scheduled to land on the south pole of the moon on Monday. The lunar 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 transform into air and rocket fuel.

The Russian lunar lander was racing to land on Earth's satellite ahead of an Indian spacecraft, launched on July 14. Both were expected to reach the moon between August 21-23.

Only three governments have managed successful moon landings: the Soviet Union, the United States and China, but not on the moon's south pole. India and Russia have been racing to be the first countries to land there.

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 said it wanted to show Russia is a state capable of delivering a payload to the moon, and ensure Russia's guaranteed access to the moon's surface.

Sanctions imposed on Russia since it began its actions in Ukraine make it harder for the country to access Western technology, impacting its space program.

The Luna-25 was initially meant to carry a small moon rover but that idea was abandoned to reduce the weight of the craft for improved reliability, analysts said.

The Luna-25 launched from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia's Far East on August 10.

The spaceport is a pet project of Russian President Vladimir Putin and key to his efforts to make Russia a space superpower.

The launch earlier this month was Russia's first since 1976 when it was part of the Soviet Union.

47 years and still counting
It was Russia’s first moon mission since the Soviet Union’s Luna-24 returned with samples from the moon in 1976. A Soyuz 2.1 rocket carrying the Luna-25 craft blasted off from the Vostochny cosmodrome, at 2:11 am Moscow time (4:41 am IST) on August 11. The lander was boosted out of Earth's orbit toward the moon a little over an hour later. It entered the moon's orbit on August 16 and was due to attempt a soft landing on Monday.

The ‘abnormal situation’

Russia’s state space corporation, Roskosmos, said an “abnormal situation” occurred as mission control tried to move the craft into a pre-landing orbit at 11.10 GMT (4:40 pm IST) on Saturday. It lost communication with the craft at 11:57 GMT (5:27 pm IST) on Saturday. It said a special commission was looking into why the moonshot failed.

Declining space power?

Failure for the prestige mission underscores the decline of Russia's space power since the glory days of Cold War competition when Moscow was the first to launch a satellite to orbit the Earth -- Sputnik 1, in 1957 -- and Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to travel into space in 1961.
Russia had not attempted a moon mission since Luna-24 in 1976, when Leonid Brezhnev ruled the Kremlin.

Failure also underscores the pressure on Russia's $2 trillion economy, which has so far withstood what the West casts as the most stringent sanctions ever imposed. The West says the sanctions have weakened Russia's economy, particularly the high-technology parts of it which often rely on imports. President Vladimir Putin says Russia's economy is showing remarkable strength.

Over the past three decades, Russia has considered various moon missions which were delayed or shelved amid the chaos of the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union and the ensuing economic and political turmoil. Reuters

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First Published: Aug 20 2023 | 4:01 PM IST

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