What happened to Luna 25?
Putin’s distorted quote
The Russian Luna 25 station crashed on the lunar surface because it was put into the wrong orbit. At the same time, the station did not even enter the planned orbit around the Moon to prepare for the landing of the vehicle. Now the Kremlin has no funds to continue the lunar program, although they continue to be directed to the war in Ukraine.
About the program
Luna 25 was the first Russian lunar station in 47 years. It was to make a soft landing on the lunar surface in the Sea of Tranquility near the South Pole. The station was equipped with scientific instruments to study the lunar surface and its soil.
The goal of this project was to launch an automatic probe that would fly around the Moon, the orbiter of which would remotely explore and select suitable sites for further landers, and the lander would explore the Moon’s surface near the South Pole.
The launch was carried out on August 10, 2023. The probe was scheduled to work on the lunar surface for about a year, but on August 19, 2023, as a result of an abnormal operation of the propulsion system, the station left orbit and crashed into the lunar surface.
In 2011, Phobos-Grunt, which was scheduled to launch in 2003, crashed at launch, so priorities shifted to Luna-Glob-1, which was renamed Luna-25. This was the name of the Russian lunar mission to demonstrate its continuity with the Soviet program: the last Soviet expedition to the Moon was called Luna-24 and was successful in July 1976.
Luna 25 was planned as the first of a series of vehicles to test new landing technologies and explore the terrain where other vehicles would later land. Initially, it was planned that the spacecraft would be launched in 2019 by a Zenit rocket from the new Vostochny cosmodrome, the first launch of a spacecraft from the cosmodrome. Then, they were preparing to use the super-heavy Yenisei rocket for the launch, but in the end, it was recognized as too expensive.
The program, adopted in 2018, consisted of three stages: “Sortie”, “Outpost” and “Base”. It was assumed that during the first stage, the Moon would be explored by automatic vehicles from 2021 to 2025, then from 2025 to 2035, manned spacecraft flights were planned to reach the satellite, including landing, and after 2035, Russia was going to build a habitable base on the Moon. At the first stage, the Luna-25, Luna-26, and Luna-27 vehicles were being prepared.
“Luna in three days”
In fact, Luna 25 is not a continuation of the Soviet lunar programs, as the scientific potential and achievements over the decades have been completely lost. Previously, many of the instruments were manufactured in Ukraine. Now, Russia is not able to develop such a project on its own on a modern element base. The sanctions imposed on it also contribute to this.
Vadim Lukashevich, an expert on cosmonautics, told Mark Feigin in a video interview:
“The cost of the entire Luna 25 program since 2014 is 12.6 billion rubles. This is the cost of military operations by the Russian army in Ukraine for 11 hours and 22 minutes. At the same time, a super-heavy missile costs 1 trillion rubles. If we also correlate it with the cost of launching hostilities against Ukraine, it is 38 days, or just five weeks.”
The expert notes that Luna 25 was supposed to build a landing orbit over a selected location on the Moon’s south pole from the almost circular orbit it entered. The device was supposed to give out a braking pulse, according to the plan it was 84 seconds of engine operation, and the engine worked much longer – 127 seconds. As a result, the braking pulse was one and a half times larger than normal, and the orbit became a negative intersection, that is, the lowest altitude became negative – below the lunar surface.
“The station ‘safely’ crashed into the Moon, and I think there is now a crater of several tens of meters, because the tanks and everything else should have detonated accordingly,” Lukashevich said.
The break from the USSR
Compared to the successes of the USSR, Russia achieved a similar result 64 years later. After all, the Soviet Luna 2 station crashed into the moon for the first time. It was on September 12, 1959.
After that, the Luna 3 station took the first photos of the backside of the Moon. Luna 25 also sent photos of the backside, of course, of better quality. But Luna 4 was supposed to land on the Moon for the first time and was launched in April 1963, but it just flew past the Moon. After that, Luna 5 was also supposed to make the first soft landing, but it crashed into the Moon on May 12, 1965. Russia was able to repeat that “success” of the USSR.
The program has no prospects, because there is no 12 billion in the budget to repeat the Luna 25 program.
“To send a man to the moon, you need a heavy launch vehicle. A trillion rubles has been requested for the Yenisei super-heavy rocket, and the space industry says that of course it doesn’t have that kind of money, because it is comparable to the entire annual Russian space exploration program,” adds Vadym Lukashevych.