Russia’s first lunar lander since 1976 has returned photographs from space.
The Luna-25 mission launched from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s far eastern Amur Region on August 10 atop a Soyuz-2.1b rocket, making it the first domestically made probe to reach the moon in contemporary Russian history. Luna-24, Russia’s last moon mission, launched in 1976 and returned around 6.2 ounces (170 grams) of lunar material. The launch of Luna-25 was repeatedly delayed, owing in part to Russia’s war on Ukraine, which has had far-reaching consequences for international spaceflight collaboration.
The first photographs from Luna-25 were taken on Sunday (Aug. 13) and published Monday (Aug. 14) by the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Space Research Institute (IKI RAS). The set of black-and-white photographs depicts the Russian flag and mission patch on the spacecraft’s construction, as well as shots of Earth and the moon glowing brightly against the blackness of space.
In a message posted on Telegram on August 14, the Russian state space agency Roscosmos stated, “These images show the elements of the device’s design against the background of the Earth, from which we have already parted forever, and against the background of the moon, to which we will soon arrive.”
The images were taken at a distance of about 192,625 miles (310,000 km), according to IKI RAS. The distance between the moon and Earth is normally roughly 238,855 miles (384,400 km).
Although there was some initial concern published on social media about the condition of Luna-25 in the days following its launch, the photographs seem to allay these concerns and demonstrate that the lander is healthy and traveling to the moon.
In a statement that accompanied the photographs, IKI RAS stated that “all systems of the spacecraft are operating normally, communication with the station is stable, and the energy balance is positive” (Google translation).
If all goes as planned, Luna-25 will reach the moon on Tuesday, August 15, and then orbit the moon for five to seven days. The probe will then try to settle close to one of the three craters that surround the lunar south pole. At least a year of operation was included into the probe’s design.
Upon landing successfully, Luna-25 will study the lunar soil, look for water ice, and carry out research on the moon’s tenuous atmosphere. The lander is equipped with eight distinct equipment, including a laser mass spectrometer and a tool for zapping lunar soil samples and analyzing the chemical makeup of the ensuing gases.
Luna-25 is the latest in a long line of international moon missions with the goal of exploring or landing close to the lunar south pole.
On August 7, the Chandrayaan-3 rover from India entered lunar orbit. On August 23, it is anticipated to land close to the south pole of the moon. In August 2022, South Korea launched the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO) with the NASA-operated ShadowCam to assist in the search for water ice near the south pole of the moon.
And as part of the Artemis 3 mission, NASA’s Artemis Program hopes to send people close to the moon’s south pole no sooner than 2025.