Russia’s Luna-25 Lunar Lander Experiences Anomaly

Russia’s Luna-25 Lunar Lander Experiences Anomaly

Russia’s space agency Roscosmos is reporting today that Luna-25 experienced an anomaly after being commanded to adjust its orbit around the Moon in preparation for landing on Monday. Luna-25 is Russia’s first lunar probe in almost 50 years and Russian hopes are riding high that it will demonstrate that the country that racked up a number of robotic lunar “firsts” in the early years of the Space Age is still a player. Experts are analyzing the situation at the moment.

Roscosmos posted the news on its Telegram channel that an “emergency situation occurred” after Luna-25 was commanded to change orbits:

Today, in accordance with the Luna-25 flight program, at 14:10 an impulse was issued to transfer the station to the pre-landing orbit.

During the operation, an emergency situation occurred on board the automatic station, which did not allow the maneuver to be performed with the specified parameters.

The management team is currently analyzing the situation.   26.8K views   edited Aug 19 at 11:27

(translated using Google Translate)

Russia’s state news agency TASS also reported the news, clarifying the time was 2:10 pm Moscow Time today, August 19. The Telegram post similarly says the anomaly was at 2:10 pm (14:10), but it is timestamped about three hours earlier, 11:27, likely expressed in Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), which is 3 hours behind Moscow Time.

Luna-25 prior to launch. Photo credit: Sergey Bobylev/TASS

Luna-25, also known as Luna-Glob, launched on a Soyuz 2.1b rocket from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Siberia at 23:11 UTC on August 10 (August 11, 2:11 am Moscow Time) and made two course corrections before entering lunar orbit on Wednesday.

What the anomaly means for the landing attempt is unknown at this time, but a delay from Monday at a mimimum would not be surprising. Anatoly Zak of tweets that he’s heard the problem is a complete loss of communications with the spacecraft, but that is not confirmed.

Luna-25 is one of five or six probes headed to the Moon’s South Pole this year alone from several countries and companies.

The first, HAKUTO-R M1, was launched by a commercial Japanese company, ispace, and failed just before landing, as did three attempts by others in 2019 and 2022. China is the only country to successfully soft-land robotic probes on the Moon (two lander/rovers and one sample return mission) since the Soviet Union’s Luna-24 in 1976.

India’s space agency has a lunar lander in orbit around the Moon right now, Chandrayaan-3, with landing planned for Wednesday. India’s first landing attempt in 2019 with Chandrayaan-2 was one of the failures (the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter worked well, however, and remains in lunar orbit).

On Friday (UTC and Japan Standard Time, Thursday EDT), Japan’s space agency will launch the Smart Lander for Investgating Moon (SLIM).

At least two U.S. commercial probes are scheduled to launch later this year as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C is scheduled for November 15 on a SpaceX Falcon 9. A second IM mission also is on NASA’s books for this year, but is expected to slip to 2024. The launch date for Astrobotic’s Peregrine is dependent on when United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan rocket is ready for its first flight, but is expected before year’s end.

The United States sent robotic probes to the lunar surface in the 1960s and is the only country to land humans there. The last Apollo crew, Apollo 17, departed in December 1972. A number of U.S. probes have orbited the Moon since then — the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been there since 2009 — and some deliberately crashed into the surface, but the CLPS missions will be the first U.S. probes to attempt survivable landings since Apollo. CLPS is part of NASA’s Artemis program to resume human lunar exploration as early as 2025. Artemis missions also will land at the South Pole.

The South Pole is of great scientific interest because U.S. instruments have detected water there in permanently shadowed regions, likely remnants of comet impacts over the eons.

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