Home News Science&Tech Russia launches its first lunar mission in almost 50 years

Russia launches its first lunar mission in almost 50 years

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For the first time in nearly 50 years, a Russian spacecraft is embarking on a journey to the Moon. The mission had been delayed multiple times due to technical issues.

The Soviet lunar program was a series of space exploration missions conducted by the Soviet Union (USSR) with the goal of reaching and exploring the Moon. The program spanned from the late 1950s to the early 1970s and was characterized by a number of significant milestones and achievements.

The first successful mission in the Soviet lunar program was Luna 2, which was launched on September 12, 1959. It became the first human-made object to reach the Moon, impacting its surface on September 14, 1959. However, Luna 2 was an impactor probe; it didn’t land but rather crashed into the Moon’s surface.

The first successful soft landing on the Moon was achieved by the Soviet Luna 9 spacecraft on February 3, 1966. Luna 9’s landing module transmitted photographs and data from the Moon’s surface, providing valuable insights into lunar conditions.

The Soviet lunar program also had a series of other notable missions, including the launch of rovers, sample return missions, and orbiter missions. One of the most famous missions was Luna 16, which successfully collected lunar soil samples and returned them to Earth in 1970.

50 years later

Russia has launched its lunar probe “Luna-25,” marking the first lunar mission in nearly 50 years. The spacecraft, designed to explore the Moon, is set to land at the South Pole later this month and will conduct tasks such as searching for water. The Soyuz-2.1b carrier rocket, carrying the probe, lifted off as scheduled from the new Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Amur region at 9:10 AM local time (1:10 AM CEST) as shown in a live broadcast by the Russian space agency Roscosmos on Friday. The probe successfully entered space a few minutes after liftoff.

“The launch was successful,” said Roscosmos Chief Yuri Borisov. The journey to the Moon, located approximately 384,000 kilometers away, is expected to take about four and a half days. The probe is projected to enter the Moon’s orbit on August 16 (Vostochny local time). Borisov stated that everything is proceeding smoothly. This first mission since 1976 had been postponed multiple times due to technical issues.

“He hopes for a soft landing on the Moon on August 21,” Borisov added. However, initially, the ideal landing site needs to be identified while the probe is in orbit. According to Roscosmos, “Luna-25” will select an optimal landing point within 100 kilometers of the Moon’s surface for three to seven days, ensuring favorable lighting conditions and a connection to Earth.

“Luna-25” is part of Russia’s lunar program, which envisions establishing a lunar space station by 2040. Roscosmos is building upon its Soviet-era “Luna” program that began in 1959, during which lunar landers brought back moon rock samples. The new probe was originally planned to launch much earlier. The initial planned launch date for a lunar probe was 2012, and the latest target was May 2022. On Friday, commentators in Moscow emphasized that despite Western sanctions due to the conflict in Ukraine, Russia has successfully overcome this new scientific challenge.

The 1,800-kilogram spacecraft “Luna-25,” according to Roscosmos, is tasked with collecting and analyzing lunar soil samples. The planned scientific investigations also include studying surface layers and particularly the loose material on the rock in the southern pole area of the Moon, as stated in the project document.

The measurements aim to provide insight into the condition of the exosphere of the celestial body at different times of the day – a lunar day and night each lasting about 14.5 Earth days. Temperatures there, according to Roscosmos, fluctuate between minus 170 degrees and plus 120 degrees Celsius. In the polar exosphere, dynamic processes occur involving cosmic particles and lunar dust, as per Roscosmos. “Lunar dust creates many problems and dangers for technical systems.”

Micro-particles of the dust are toxic and highly chemically reactive. Therefore, the investigations are important for potential future human exploration of the Moon on-site. The potential radioactive hazard is also being examined. The mission is scheduled for one year.

The Russian probe aims to determine the water content in the lunar soil. According to Roscosmos, researchers expect the water content in the loose material to be minimal, as everything evaporates under sunlight and high temperatures. However, beneath this layer of deposited material (regolith), there is a layer of permafrost. Scientists anticipate finding water ice there and in perpetually shaded regions.

“Luna-25” can penetrate up to 40 centimeters deep for its soil samples. Wide-angle cameras will photograph the surroundings and landscapes, with the images sent to a research center on Earth.

During the Soviet era, the proud spacefaring nation achieved several groundbreaking feats. The Soviet Union was the first country in space and sent the first human into orbit in 1961. It also reached the Moon’s surface first in 1959. Venus exploration was a wonder.

Regarding manned Moon landings, the USA is ahead of Russia and China, noted NASA Chief Bill Nelson before the “Luna-25” launch. “I don’t think a lot of people would say that Russia is ready to put cosmonauts on the Moon in the time frame that we’re talking about – or that China would be.” Despite their political tensions, the USA and Russia continue to collaborate on the International Space Station (ISS).

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