- Russian lunar lander launches and leaves Earth orbit
- Russia seeks to find water ice on the moon
- Soft landing scheduled for August 21, says Russia
- Russia to work with China on possible manned mission
MOSCOW, Aug 11 (Reuters) – Russia launched its first moon landing spacecraft in 47 years on Friday in a bid to be the first nation to make a soft landing on the lunar south pole, a region thought to contain pockets coveted water ice.
The Russian lunar mission, the first since 1976, is racing against India, which launched its Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander last month, and more broadly with the United States and China, both of which have development programs. lunar exploration targeting the lunar south pole.
A Soyuz 2.1 rocket carrying the Luna-25 craft lifted off from the Vostochny cosmodrome, 3,450 miles (5,550 km) east of Moscow, at 02:11 a.m. Friday Moscow time (1111 GMT Thursday).
The lander was blasted out of Earth orbit toward the moon more than an hour later, at which time mission control took command of the craft, Russian space agency Roscosmos said.
The lander is expected to land on the Moon on August 21, Russian space chief Yuri Borisov told state television, although the space agency previously set August 23 as the landing date.
“Now we will wait for the 21st. I hope that a very precise soft landing on the Moon will take place,” Borisov told workers at the Vostochny cosmodrome after the launch. “We hope to be first.”
Luna-25, roughly the size of a small car, will aim to operate for a year at the moon’s south pole, where scientists from NASA and other space agencies have detected traces of ice in recent years of water in the shaded craters of the region.
The Luna-25 mission is very important because the Kremlin says Western sanctions against the war in Ukraine, many of which have targeted Moscow’s aerospace sector, have not crippled the Russian economy.
The moonshot, which Russia has been planning for decades, will also test the nation’s growing independence in space after its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine severed nearly all of Moscow’s space ties with the West, in addition to its essential role on the International Space Station.
The European Space Agency had planned to test its Pilot-D navigation camera by attaching it to Luna-25, but severed ties with the project after Russia invaded Ukraine.
“Russia’s aspirations for the Moon are intertwined with a lot of different things. First and foremost I think it’s an expression of national power on the world stage,” Asif Siddiqi, a history professor at the University, told Reuters. ‘Fordham University.
American astronaut Neil Armstrong gained fame in 1969 for being the first person to walk on the moon, but the Soviet Union’s Luna-2 mission was the first spacecraft to reach the surface of the moon in 1959 , and the Luna-9 mission in 1966 was the first to make a soft landing there.
Moscow then focused on exploring Mars and since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has not sent scientific probes beyond Earth orbit.
For centuries, astronomers have wondered about the water on the moon, which is 100 times drier than the Sahara. NASA maps in 2018 showed water ice in shadowed parts of the moon, and in 2020 NASA confirmed that water also exists in sunny areas.
Major powers such as the United States, China, India, Japan and the European Union have all probed the Moon in recent years. A Japanese lunar landing failed last year and an Israeli mission failed in 2019.
No country has made a soft landing at the South Pole. An Indian mission, Chandrayaan-2, failed in 2019.
The rugged terrain makes a landing difficult, but the price of finding the water ice could be historic: large dimensions could be used to extract fuel and oxygen, as well as drinking water.
Borisov said at least three more lunar missions were planned over the next seven years, and after that Russia and China would work on a possible crewed lunar mission.
“My colleagues and I from China will move on to the next phase – the possibility of a manned mission to the Moon and the construction of a lunar base,” he said.
Maxim Litvak, head of the Luna-25 scientific equipment planning group, said the most important task was to land where no one else had landed – and to find water.
“There are signs of ice in the ground of Luna-25’s landing zone,” he said, adding that Luna-25 would work on the moon for at least an Earth year, taking samples.
Roscosmos said it would take five days to fly to the moon. The craft will spend 5-7 days in lunar orbit before descending to one of three possible landing sites near the pole – a schedule that implies it could match or narrowly beat its Indian rival on the surface of the planet. moon.
Chandrayaan-3 is to conduct experiments for two weeks.
With a mass of 1.8 tons and carrying 31 kg (68 pounds) of scientific equipment, Luna-25 will use a shovel to take rock samples from a depth of up to 15 cm (6 inches) to test for the presence of frozen water.
Reporting Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow and Joey Roulette in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler and Gerry Doyle
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