Russia's bruised space programme eyes comeback with lunar launch

MOSCOW – Russia is launching its first mission to the moon’s surface in nearly 50 years on Friday, hoping to reclaim prestige in space despite military and diplomatic setbacks at home over its war in Ukraine.

The Luna-25 launch is Moscow’s first lunar mission since 1976, when the Soviet Union boasted a pioneering space programme that has lost its shine because of funding problems and corruption.

The launch from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Far East is scheduled for 2.11am Moscow time on Friday (7.11am Singapore time), Russia’s space agency Roscosmos has said.

The four-legged lander weighs around 800kg and is set to reach the lunar orbit around five days later.

It is estimated to touch near the moon’s south pole sometime around Aug 21, a source at Roscosmos told AFP.

Roscosmos said the module would operate for one year and “take and analyse soil samples and conduct long-term scientific research” on lunar surface material and the atmosphere.

Independent space analyst Vitaly Yegorov said the Luna-25 mission was an important test for Russia’s space programme.

“So, the biggest question will be: Can it land?“

President Vladimir Putin wants to strengthen cooperation in space with China and scale back partnerships with the West, mirroring Russia’s geopolitical priorities.

Moscow has announced it will end its work with the United States on the International Space Station (ISS) by 2028 and wants to participate in a rival project led by Beijing.

‘Ambition of our ancestors’

The European Space Agency (ESA) said it would not cooperate with Moscow on the Luna-25 launch – as well as future 26 and 27 missions – after Mr Putin sent troops into Ukraine last year.

Moscow vowed to go ahead with the mission and replace ESA equipment with Russian-made instruments.

Speaking at the Vostochny Cosmodrome last year, Mr Putin said the Soviet Union had sent the first man to space in 1961 despite a “total” sanction regime.

He said Russia would develop its lunar programme despite Western economic penalties that reached unprecedented levels over the Ukraine conflict.

“We are guided by the ambition of our ancestors to move forward, despite any difficulties and despite external attempts to prevent us from moving,” Mr Putin said.


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