A Russian robotic spacecraft that was headed to the lunar surface has crashed into the moon, Russia’s space agency said on Sunday, citing the results of a preliminary investigation a day after it lost radio contact with the craft.
It is the latest setback in spaceflight for a country that during the Cold War became the first nation, as the Soviet Union, to put a satellite, a man and then a woman in orbit.
The Luna-25 craft, Russia’s first space launch to the moon’s surface since the 1970s, entered lunar orbit last Wednesday and was supposed to land as early as Monday. On Saturday afternoon Moscow time, according to Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, the spacecraft received orders to enter an orbit that would set it up for a lunar landing. But an unexplained “emergency situation” occurred, and the orbital adjustment did not occur.
On Sunday, Roscosmos said that measures to find and re-establish contact with the craft had failed, and that it calculated the failure of the adjustment meant that Luna-25 had deviated from its planned orbit and “ceased its existence as a result of a collision with the lunar surface.”
An interagency commission would be formed to investigate the reasons for the failure, it added.
Luna-25, which launched on Aug. 10, was aiming to be the first mission to reach the moon’s south polar region. Government space programs and private companies all over Earth are interested in that part of the moon because they believe it may contain water ice that could be used by astronauts for future space missions.
Another country, India, will now get the chance to land the first probe in the lunar south pole’s vicinity. Its Chandrayaan-3 mission launched in July, but it opted for a more roundabout but fuel-efficient route to the moon. It is scheduled to attempt a landing on Wednesday.
That India may succeed after Russia failed would be a blow to President Vladimir V. Putin, who has used Russian achievements in space as part and parcel of his hold on power.