Russia will launch its first lunar landing spacecraft in 47 years on Friday in a race with India to the south pole of the moon, a potential source of water to support a future human presence there.
The launch from the Vostochny cosmodrome, 5 500km east of Moscow, will take place four weeks after India sent up its Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander, due to touch down at the pole on 23 August.
Rough terrain makes a landing there difficult, but the south pole is a prized destination because scientists believe it may hold significant quantities of ice that could be used to extract fuel and oxygen, as well as for drinking water.
Russian space agency Roscosmos said in reply to questions that its Luna-25 spacecraft would take five days to fly to the moon and then spend five to seven days in lunar orbit before descending on one of three possible landing sites near the pole — a timetable that implies it could match or narrowly beat its Indian rival to the moon’s surface.
Roscosmos said the two missions would not get in each other’s way because they have different landing areas planned. “There is no danger that they interfere with each other or collide. There is enough space for everyone on the moon.”
Chandrayaan-3 is due to run experiments for two weeks, while Luna-25 will work on the moon for a year. In April, Japan’s ispace failed in an attempt to make the first moon landing by a private space company.
With a mass of 1.8t and carying 31kg of scientific equipment, Luna-25 will use a scoop to take rock samples from a depth of up to 15cm to test for the presence of frozen water that could support human life.
Russia’s Ukraine invasion
“The moon is the seventh continent of the Earth so we are simply ‘condemned’, as it were, to tame it,” said Lev Zeleny, a space researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The launch, originally planned for October 2021, has been delayed for nearly two years. The European Space Agency had planned to test its Pilot-D navigation camera by attaching it to Luna-25, but broke off its ties to the project after Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year.
Residents of a village in Russia’s far east will be evacuated from their homes at 7.30am on Friday because of a “one in a million chance” that one of the rocket stages that launches Luna-25 could fall to earth there, a local official said.
Alexei Maslov told Russian news outlet Business FM that the 26 inhabitants of Shakhtinsky would be taken to a place where they could watch the launch and get a free breakfast, and return within three-and-a-half hours. He said fishermen and hunters in the region had also been warned. — Mark Trevelyan and Lidia Kelly, (c) 2023 Reuters