The failed lunar mission touches Russia’s pride and reflects deeper problems in Moscow’s space industry

that An ambitious but failed attempt Russia’s return to the Moon after nearly half a century has revealed the enormous challenges Moscow faces The space program he was once proud of.

The destruction of the robotic probe Luna-25, which crashed into the lunar surface over the weekend, reflects the endemic problems that have plagued Russia’s space industry since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. These include the loss of key technologies in the post-Soviet industrial meltdown, and the agonizing impact recent western sanctionsMassive brain drain and widespread corruption.

Yuri Borisov, head of the state-controlled space company Roscosmos, attributed the failure to a lack of experience due to the long pause in lunar research that followed the last Soviet mission to the moon in 1976.

“The invaluable experience gained by our predecessors in the 60s and 70s is virtually lost,” Borisov said. “The link between generations has been severed.”

While the Soviet Union lost the race to the United States to land humans on the moon, the Soviet lunar program had more than a dozen successful pilot robotic missions, some involving lunar rovers and bringing soil samples back to Earth. Honorable Soviet space history includes the launch of the first artificial satellite into space in 1957 and the first human being in space in 1961.

Mikhail Marov, a 90-year-old scientist who played a prominent role in planning previous lunar missions and worked on the Luna-25 project, has been hospitalized after it failed.

“It was very difficult. It is the work I have done all my life,” Marov said in remarks reported by Russian media. “For me, this was the last chance to see the revival of our lunar program.”

Borisov said the spacecraft’s engine fired for 127 seconds instead of 84 seconds as planned, causing it to crash, and a government commission will investigate the malfunction.

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Natan Eismont, a senior researcher at the Moscow-based Space Research Institute, told the state RIA Novosti news agency that signs of equipment problems appeared even before the crash, but space officials were still giving the go-ahead for the landing.

Vitaly Egorov, a popular Russian space blogger, pointed out that Roscosmos may have ignored the warnings in its haste to be the first to land on the south pole of the moon ahead of an Indian spacecraft that was orbiting the moon ahead of the planned landing.

“It looks like things weren’t going according to plan, but they decided not to change the schedule to stop the Indians from finishing first,” he said.

the Lunar South Pole It is of particular interest to scientists, who believe the permanently shadowed polar craters may contain frozen water in rock that future explorers could turn into air and rocket fuel.

A major factor exacerbating Russia’s space problems that could have played a role in the failure of Luna 25 was the Western sanctions imposed on Moscow over its missiles. The war in Ukraine. These sanctions have banned imports of microchips and other key Western components and restricted scientific exchanges.

While working on the Luna-25 project, Roscosmos partnered with the European Space Agency to provide a camera to facilitate the landing. The European Space Agency discontinued the partnership shortly after the February 2022 invasion and asked Roscosmos to remove its camera from the spacecraft.

Years ago, Russia had hoped to purchase the main navigation device for the lunar mission from Airbus, but was unable to do so due to technology transfer restrictions. Eventually, it developed its own equipment that delayed the project and doubled its weight, reducing the spacecraft’s scientific payload, which weighed 1,750 kilograms (more than 3,800 pounds).

Many industry experts point out that even before recent Western sanctions, the use of substandard components led to the collapse of an ambitious mission to send a probe to Mars’ moon Phobos in 2011. The spacecraft’s thrusters failed to send it on a path toward Mars and burned up in Earth’s atmosphere. , a problem the researchers attributed to the use of cheap commercial chips that are not suitable for the extreme conditions of space.

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Some observers have speculated that the use of cheap components could stem from a scheme to embezzle government funds, instead of importing specialized equipment for the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, designed by NPO Lavochkin, the same company that developed Luna-25.

NPO Lavochkin designed fighter aircraft during World War II and was the lead developer of Soviet robotic missions to the Moon, Venus, and Mars. Several of Lavochkin’s top managers have been arrested for misusing their offices in recent years.

After the Phobos failure, space officials talked about conducting a comprehensive review of the lunar spacecraft design to avoid using similar substandard components. It is unclear if this action ever took place.

Russian state television hailed Luna 25 as the country’s victorious entry into the new moon race, but since the accident, broadcasters have tried to play down the spacecraft’s loss. Some have argued that the mission was not a complete failure because it sent back images of the lunar surface from orbit and other data.

Borisov tried to remain optimistic, saying he had achieved some important results.

He insisted that participation in lunar research “does not mean only prestige or achieving geopolitical goals, but is necessary to ensure defense capability and technological supremacy.”

“I hope that the upcoming missions … will be successful,” Borisov said, adding that Roscosmos will intensify work on future lunar missions, with the next mission scheduled for 2027.

“In no case should we boycott our lunar program. It would be a completely wrong decision,” he said.

Amid finger pointing, some said failure could cost Borisov his job. Others speculated that he might avoid impeachment, pointing to President Vladimir Putin’s record of avoiding swift removals of officials in response to incidents.

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Borisov, who previously served as a deputy prime minister in charge of weapons industries, became head of Roscosmos a year ago, succeeding Dmitry Rogozin, who has been widely blamed for some previous space accidents. Rogozin, who joined the fighting in Ukraine as a volunteer, did not comment on the failed Luna-25 mission.

Under Rogozin, Roscosmos suffered a series of failed satellite launches. Combined with the growing role of private companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, these failures have cost Russia its once-large position in the lucrative global space launch market.

Rogozin has been widely criticized for failing to root out endemic corruption, including money embezzled during the construction of the Vostochny cosmodrome in Russia’s far east, which was used to launch the latest mission to the moon.

Some commentators said the Luna-25 crash dented Russia’s prestige and raised new doubts about its technological prowess in the wake of Ukraine’s military blunders.

“The consequences of the Luna 25 disaster are colossal,” said pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov.

“It raises doubts about Russia’s claims of being a great power in the eyes of the international community. Many may decide that Russia cannot realize its ambitions either in Ukraine or on the moon, because it does not live according to its current modest capabilities, but rather lives with illusions about its great past.” He added, “People Countries want to stand with the strong who win, not the weak who keep making excuses for their defeats.

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