Russia’s Luna 25 lander crashes on the Moon

An animation depicts the Luna 25 probe in orbit above the Moon’s surface. Image: Roscomos.

Russia’s first mission to the Moon for nearly 50 years ended in failure when the Luna 25 spacecraft crashed onto the surface, the Russian space agency Roscomos said Sunday.

In an official statement published to the Telegram social media account Roscosmos said efforts to reestablish communications with its Luna-25 mission lander over the course of Aug. 19 and 20 proved unsuccessful.

The previous day, they stated, according to a Google Translate translation of the post, that at 14:10 Moscow Time (7:10 a.m. EDT, 1110 UTC) they commanded the lander to begin a pre-landing orbit lowering maneuver.

However, Roscosmos stated on Aug. 19, “During the operation, an emergency situation occurred onboard the automatic station, which did not allow the maneuver to be performed with the specific parameters. The management team is currently analyzing the situation.”

That was followed up on Aug. 20 with additional clarification that the signal disruption came at 14:57 Moscow Time (7:57 a.m. EDT, 1157 UTC) and that corrective measures on both Aug. 19 and 20 proved unsuccessful.

“According to the results of the preliminary analysis, due to the deviation of the actual parameters of the impulse from the calculated ones, the device switched to an off-design orbit and ceased to exist as a result of a collision with the lunar surface,” Roscosmos said according to a Google translation.

The agency noted that “a specially formed interdepartmental commission” will investigate the failed Moon landing.


Nearly 50 years and still counting

Roscosmos’ Luna-25 mission was the first in a series of Moon missions from the region since Luna-24 launched in 1976.

On Aug. 8 during a visit to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to discuss the progress of the crewed Artemis 2 mission, NASA administrator Bill Nelson said he wished the Russians well with their attempt.

Artist’s concept of Luna 25 on the surface of the Moon. Image: N.P.O. Lavochkin.

“We’ve had a cooperative relationship with Russia ever since 1975 and Apollo-Soyuz. We built the Space Station together. We operate it together,” Nelson said.

He was asked whether Russia was considered part of the new space race along with China when it comes to sending humans to the Moon’s South Pole. Nelson said that’s unlikely.

“I don’t think a lot of people at this point would say that Russia is actually ready to be landing cosmonauts on the Moon in the timeframe that we’re talking about going to the Moon or that China would be,” he said.

Russia’s follow-up missions, the Luna-26 orbiter and the Luna-27, were set to launch to the Moon two and three years after Luna-25 respectively. The European Space Agency (ESA) was also previously a bilateral partner on all three missions, but pulled out following an ESA Council decision in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022.

It’s unclear at this point how the failure of Luna-25 may impact the timeline of Russia’s next Moon missions.

One remaining

While Luna-25 was aiming for a lunar landing this week, India stated that its lander is still on track to make it to the Moon’s surface.

In an Aug. 20 statement, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) said its Chandrayaan-3 mission lander is aiming for a soft landing on Aug. 23 at 18:04 IST (8:04 a.m. EDT, 1204 UTC).

This would make the first successful Moon landing for India, if all goes right. Its previous mission, Chandrayaan-2, crashed on Sept. 6, 2019 due to a software issue.

Watch our earlier report on Luna 25