Russia’s recent failed attempt to send a probe to the moon has shed light on the difficulties faced by its space program. The Luna-25 probe crashed onto the lunar surface, reflecting the persistent problems that have plagued Russia’s space industry since the collapse of the Soviet Union. These issues include the loss of key technologies, the impact of Western sanctions, brain drain, and corruption.
Yuri Borisov, head of the space corporation Roscosmos, attributed the failure to a lack of expertise due to the long break in lunar research following the last Soviet mission in 1976. The Soviet lunar program had numerous successful robotic missions, including lunar rovers and soil sample returns. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in the loss of valuable experience.
The failure of the Luna-25 probe was caused by a thruster firing longer than planned, leading to a crash. Signs of equipment problems had appeared prior to the crash, but space officials proceeded with the landing. Some speculate that the rush to beat an Indian spacecraft to the lunar south pole may have influenced the decision.
The lunar south pole is of interest to scientists due to the potential presence of frozen water in the shadowed polar craters, which could be transformed into air and rocket fuel for future missions.
Western sanctions have also contributed to Russia’s space woes. The import of microchips and other key components has been blocked, while scientific exchanges have been restricted. Additionally, Russia faced difficulties in acquiring navigation devices and other equipment due to technology transfer restrictions.
The failure of the Luna-25 mission is not an isolated incident. Previous missions, such as the failed probe to Mars’ moon Phobos in 2011, also suffered from substandard components. There have been allegations of embezzlement and the use of cheap commercial microchips unfit for space conditions. The collapse of the Phobos mission was meant to prompt a revision of spacecraft design, but it’s unclear if the necessary changes were made.
Despite the setback, Russian officials remain committed to lunar exploration. Borisov emphasized the importance of lunar research for defense capabilities and technological sovereignty. Roscosmos plans to continue working on future moon missions, with the next mission scheduled for 2027.
The failure could potentially impact Borisov’s position but President Vladimir Putin has a history of not immediately dismissing officials in response to incidents. Borisov took over as Roscosmos chief last year, succeeding Dmitry Rogozin, who was criticized for previous space mishaps.
Russia’s space program faces numerous challenges that need to be addressed in order to ensure future success.