Russia has begun its first lunar mission in nearly 50 years, putting it in a competition with India, which also plans to land a lunar ship this month, in the moon’s orbit.
The Luna-25 spacecraft was launched on Friday, marking Russia’s first lunar mission since 1976, when it was a part of the Soviet Union. The European Space Agency was not involved in the mission since it had ceased working with Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.
According to Roscosmos’ live feeds, the launch from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Far East occurred at 2:10 a.m. Moscow time on Friday (23:10 gmt on Thursday).
The four-legged lander will arrive in lunar orbit in five days and weigh about 800kg (1,750 pounds).
After that, it will take anything from three to seven days to find the ideal location before landing close to the lunar south pole.
“The lunar landing will take occur on the lunar south pole for the first time ever. In a recent interview, senior Roscosmos official Alexander Blokhin stated that up to this point, everyone had been landing in the equatorial zone.
On or about August 23, the lander, which launched on July 14, is anticipated to arrive at the moon’s surface.
The spacecraft from both nations are en route to the lunar south pole, where no spacecraft has ever successfully landed. The Soviet Union, the United States, and China are the only three nations to have accomplished successful moon landings.
The module will run for a year while “taking and analyzing soil samples and conducting long-term scientific research” on the lunar surface and atmosphere, according to Roscosmos.
It claimed it wanted to “ensure Russia’s guaranteed access to the moon’s surface” and demonstrate that Russia “is a state capable of delivering a payload to the moon.”
Russia’s space program is impacted by sanctions put in place against it after it invaded Ukraine and made it more difficult for it to obtain Western technologies. The Luna-25 was designed to carry a small moon rover, but analysts believed the plan was scrapped in order to make the vehicle lighter and more reliable.
According to popular Russian space analyst Vitaliy Egorov, “Foreign electronics are lighter, while domestic electronics are heavier.” While scientists may be tasked with investigating lunar water, Roscosmos’ primary objective is to land on the moon in order to reclaim lost Soviet know-how and adapt this mission to the modern day.
According to journalist Daniel Hawkins, the mission marked Russia’s “significant return to major space missions after quite a long break.”
“Everyone is well aware of the tremendous Soviet legacy in terms of space launches,” Hawkins told Al Jazeera, speaking from Moscow.
“After the Soviet Union collapsed and sent the last probe to the moon back in 1976, the Russian space institute really went into a period of decline,” he said.
A successful voyage to the Moon would demonstrate to Russia that it is capable of carrying out significant space missions despite its stormy past and the Western sanctions, which have “really impacted Russia’s space development,” according to Hawkins.
With “equipment that is effectively made in Russia – Russia’s own brand – to compete at an international level,” he said, it will demonstrate its ability to do so. The most recent Russian space landing attempts in 2016 and 2011 were unsuccessful.