‘Emergency situation’ reported on Russia’s lunar lander ahead of landing


Russia’s new Luna-25 lunar lander was hit by an unspecified “emergency situation” while entering pre-landing orbit around the moon, Russia’s state space corporation Roscosmos announced on Saturday.

“Today, in accordance with the Luna-25 flight program, at 2:10 p.m. a command was issued to transfer the station to the pre-landing orbit,” said Roscosmos in an announcement on Telegram. “During the operation, an emergency situation occurred on board the space probe, that did not allow the maneuver to be performed with the specified parameters. The management team is currently analyzing the situation.”

The nature of the “emergency situation” and how it may impact the lander’s landing on the moon is as of yet unclear.

Earlier on Saturday, Roscosmos published the first results from scientific instruments on the probe, including the documentation of a meteoroid impact on the surface of the moon. The probe took multiple photos of the moon’s surface after being turned on.

The ADRON-LR neutron and gamma spectrometer on the probe registered data about chemical elements in the lunar soil. The ionic energy-mass analyzer ARIES-L was turned on as well and the optimal mode of operation of the instrument to study particles on the lunar surface was chosen.

A picture taken from the camera of the lunar landing spacecraft Luna-25 shows the Zeeman crater located on the far side of the moon, August 17, 2023 (credit: Roscosmos/Handout via REUTERS)

The Luna-25, Russia’s first moon-landing spacecraft in 47 years, was launched from the Vostochny cosmodrome east of Moscow on August 11. Assuming the reported emergency situation has not disrupted or failed the mission, the lander is planned to land on the moon’s south pole on August 21.

Lunar lander troubles in recent years

Russia’s lunar lander isn’t the first to run into issues in recent years.

India has a lunar lander, the Chandrayaan-3, in orbit around the moon which is set to land on the lunar surface in the coming days. In 2019, India attempted to land the Chandrayaan-2 lander on the lunar surface, but the lander crashed after deviating from its intended trajectory.

In April 2023, the Japanese company ispace attempted to land the Hakuto-R lander on the moon, but communication was lost with the spacecraft shortly before descending to the lunar surface, with an analysis finding that the lander plummeted uncontrollably to the surface after running out of propellant.

In 2019, Israel’s Beresheet spacecraft crashed into the moon while trying to land on the lunar surface.

A preliminary investigation conducted by SpaceIL, the company that led the Beresheet effort, found that a command intended to correct a malfunction in one of the Beresheet spacecraft’s inertial measurement units led to a chain of events that turned off its main engine during landing.

According to the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Davidson Institute, the problems began shortly after launch when an issue was reported with the spacecraft’s star trackers, cameras which were meant to help it orient itself in space. A series of steps were taken to work around the issue, including rolling the spacecraft and using other tools to navigate, but this made it harder to pinpoint the craft’s location.

A few days after the launch, the computer on the craft unexpectedly rebooted itself and canceled a planned orbital maneuver. This issue repeated multiple times.

While descending to the lunar surface, one of the accelerometers on the craft suddenly shut down. The team tried to restart the system, which led to software add-ons being deleted and a series of additional reboots during which the spacecraft’s main engine shut down, and the craft plunged into the moon’s surface at over 3,000 kilometers per hour.

Since the crash, SpaceIL has been working to organize a second Beresheet mission, although the mission faced new obstacles this year after a significant source of funding for the project was withdrawn.

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