With the launch of its Luna-25 space probe, Russia has launched a moon mission for the first time in almost 50 years. The space probe for exploring the moon is scheduled to land at the South Pole later this month and look for water, among other things. As announced, the Soyuz-2.1b launch vehicle with the probe on board took off from the new Vostochny cosmodrome in the Amur region at 9:10 a.m. local time (1:10 a.m. CEST), as shown in a live broadcast by the Roscosmos space agency on Friday. The probe entered space as planned after a few minutes.

“The start was successful,” said Roskosmos boss Yuri Borissow. The travel time to the earth satellite at a distance of around 384,000 kilometers is therefore around four and a half days. The probe is scheduled to enter orbit around the moon on August 16 (Vostochny local time). Everything is going smoothly, said Borisov. This first mission had been postponed several times since 1976 due to technical problems.

He hopes for a soft landing on the moon on August 21, Borisov added. First, however, an ideal place for touchdown must be found in orbit. According to Roskosmos, “Luna-25” will choose an ideal landing point 100 kilometers from the moon for three to seven days in order to have good lighting conditions and a connection to Earth for as long as possible.

Project goes back to 1959

“Luna-25” is part of the Russian lunar program. This envisages building a space station on the celestial body by 2040. Roscosmos is building on its Soviet “Luna” program, which began in 1959. Space probes had also brought moon rocks to earth. Actually, the new probe should have been on the way for a long time. The first planned launch date for a lunar probe was 2012, and May 2022 was last targeted. On Friday, commentators in Moscow emphasized that despite all Western sanctions over the war against Ukraine, Russia has mastered the new scientific challenge.

According to Roskosmos, the 1,800-kilogram “Luna-25” spacecraft is tasked with collecting and analyzing soil samples from the moon. According to the project paper, the planned scientific investigations also include studying the surface layers and in particular the so-called loose material on the rock in the area of ​​the southern pole of the moon.

Last but not least, the measurements should provide information about the state of the exosphere of the celestial body at different times of the day – a lunar day and a lunar night each correspond to about 14.5 days on earth. According to Roskosmos, the temperatures there vary between minus 170 degrees and plus 120 degrees Celsius. According to Roskosmos, dynamic processes involving the interaction of cosmic particles and lunar dust take place in the polar exosphere. “The lunar dust creates many problems and dangers for the technical systems.”

Microparticles of the dust are toxic and have high chemical activity. Therefore, the investigations are important for a possible later exploration of the moon by the local people. A possible radioactive hazard is also checked. The mission is scheduled to last one year.

India heads south side

After the failed attempt to land on the moon four years ago, India also wants to land the “Chandrayaan-3” probe on the surface on August 23 or 24. So far, only the USA, the Soviet Union and China have managed a soft landing. With the unmanned mission, India wants to explore the south side of the moon, which has hardly been studied, for around two weeks. India’s first attempt failed in 2019.

Above all, the Russian probe is also intended to determine the proportion of water in the soil. According to Roskosmos, the space researchers expect that the proportion of water in the loose material is negligible, because everything evaporates in sunlight and high temperatures. However, under this layer of deposited material (regolith) there is permafrost. The scientists therefore expect to find water ice there and also in permanently shaded regions.

“Luna-25” is also intended to collect soil samples – and can penetrate up to 40 centimeters deep. Wide-angle cameras photograph the surroundings and landscapes, the images of which are to be sent to a research center on Earth.

In Soviet times, the proud space nation made history several times. The Soviet Union was the first country in space and in 1961 also sent the first human into the cosmos. In 1959 it was the first country in the world to reach the surface of the moon. In the race between systems to explore space, however, the USA was the country that succeeded in 1969 with Apollo 11, the first manned moon mission.

Despite tensions, Russia and the US are working together

With regard to manned moon landings, the USA is further ahead than Russia and also than China, emphasized Nasa boss Bill Nelson before the “Luna 25” start. “I don’t think many people would say that Russia is ready to land cosmonauts on the moon in the timeframe we’re talking about — or that China would be.” The US and Russia continue to work together on the International Space Station (ISS) despite their political tensions.

Roskosmos originally worked with the European space agency Esa on the Russian lunar program. ESA ended cooperation with Moscow after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine more than 17 months ago. Kremlin boss Vladimir Putin, who started the war, also wants to show with the current start of the moon mission that the country is still able to carry out its scientific projects. Roskosmos has already announced the next missions “Luna-26” by 2027, “Luna-27” by 2028 and “Luna-28” by 2030.