Will Russia's Luna-25 beat India's Chandrayaan-3 to the Moon?

Russia's Luna-25 lunar lander mission is racing India's Chandrayaan-3 lander. One of those two will be the first mission to ever land on the lunar south pole.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of a Soyuz rocket.
An artist's impression of a Soyuz rocket.

3DSculptor / iStock 

Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, has switched on the scientific instruments aboard its Luna-25 lunar lander and its scientists have begun processing the first data from the spacecraft, a report from Reuters reveals.

The Luna-25 mission, Russia's first lunar lander mission since 1976, is racing against India's Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander. Chandrayaan-3 could be the Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) first successful lunar lander.

Both lander missions aim to perform a soft touchdown on the lunar south pole, which has never been explored before, and either one could get there first.

Luna-25 races to the lunar south pole

The world's leading space agencies have set their sights on the lunar south pole due to the fact that scientists believe there are pockets of water ice hidden beneath lunar soil and inside craters that never catch sunlight.

On Friday, August 10, Russia launched a Soyuz 2.1 rocket carrying the Luna-25 spacecraft from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia's Far East.

Ahead of the launch, the entire village of Shakhtinskyi was evacuated as Roscosmos stated it was in a region where the Soyuz rocket's boosters may crash to Earth after separating from its second-stage booster.

Luna-25 is now undergoing a 238,855-mile (384,400 km) journey to the Moon and Roscosmos has fired up its scientific instruments as it makes its way. The space agency said it has processed its first data from the mission.

"The first measurement data on the flight to the Moon has been obtained, and the project's scientific team has begun processing it," Roscosmos explained, according to the Reuters report. "Luna-25 continues its flight to the Earth's natural satellite - all systems of the automatic station are working properly, communication with it is stable, the energy balance is positive."

India launched its Chandrayaan-3 mission on July 14, though it is traveling more slowly than Luna-25; Luna-25 is traveling directly to the Moon, whereas Chandrayaan-3 performed several slingshot maneuvers around Earth and is also orbiting the Moon a number of times.

Chandrayaan-3 is expected to reach the lunar surface on August 23, around the same time as Luna-25. Both missions' landing dates aren't set in stone, meaning either could get there first.

Russia's lunar space station plans

If all goes according to plan, the Luna-25 lander, which is roughly the size of a small car, will operate from the lunar south pole for a year.

Though the US space agency NASA was the first to send humans to the Moon, Russia's Luna-2 mission in 1959 was the first-ever mission to reach the Moon and Luna-9 in 1966 was the first to make a soft landing on the lunar surface.

Now, Luna-25 is Russia's first lunar lander mission in 47 years. The country's space agency hopes to show the world it can continue its space operations unhindered by ongoing sanctions following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Russia aims to launch further lunar missions and it is exploring the possibility of building a lunar space station with China as well as performing a joint Russian-China crewed lunar landing.

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