NASA’s LRO Spots Likely Luna-25 Crash Site

NASA’s LRO Spots Likely Luna-25 Crash Site

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted the likely crash site of Russia’s Luna-25 spacecraft on the Moon. Luna-25 was intended to make a soft landing near the Moon’s South Pole, but a propulsion system failure caused it to crash instead. Russia published the coordinates of where it thought it crashed and LRO recently imaged the area.

LRO has been orbiting the Moon since 2009 taking high resolution images of the surface.  By comparing images taken the last time it flew over the Pontécoulant G crater in 2022 with those acquired after the crash, image analysts detected a new crater about 10 meters in diameter.

During the descent to the surface, the Russian spacecraft Luna 25 experienced an anomaly that caused it to impact into the southwest rim of Pontécoulant G crater on Aug. 19, 2023, at 7:58 a.m. EDT (11:58 a.m. UTC). This image is 1,100 meters wide, and lunar north is up. (LROC NAC frame No. M1447547309R) Photo and caption credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, which manages the LRO program, and Arizona State University, which manages and operates the LRO Camera (LROC), surmise that is the crash site, but stopped short of definitively saying so.

“LRO’s most recent ‘before’ image of the area was captured in June 2022 (frame No. M1410024427R); thus, the crater formed sometime after that date. Since this new crater is close to the Luna 25 estimated impact point, the LRO team concludes it is likely to be from that mission, rather than a natural impactor.”

They said the new crater is at 57.865° South latitude and 61.360° East longitude at an elevation of about minus 360 meters. That would put it “about 400 kilometers short of Luna 25’s intended landing point at 69.545 degrees south, 43.544 degrees east.”

Launched on August 10, 2023, Luna-25 was Russia’s first lunar probe in almost 50 years and the first of several they plan to launch as part of a Chinese-Russian International Lunar Research Station. They hoped to be the first country to successfully land a robotic spacecraft near the Moon’s South Pole, but that distinction now goes to India. The Chandrayaan-3 lander/rover successfully touched down on August 23, two days after Luna-25 was intended to arrive.

A special commission is investigating what went wrong on August 19 as Luna-25 was lowering its orbit in preparation for landing two days later. Russia’s space agency Roscosmos said the engine fired much longer than planned.

Yuri Borisov, the head of Roscosmos, vowed to press on, with another landing attempt perhaps in 2025-2026.

Others are moving along more quickly. At least three more lunar landers — one from Japan’s space agency, two from U.S. commercial companies in partnership with NASA — are scheduled for launch just this year.

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