The Luna-25 spacecraft encountered unknown difficulties on Saturday while attempting to enter a pre-landing orbit, which appears to be a setback for Russia’s moon mission. The Chandrayaan-3 lander module and the Luna-25, the first Russian lunar lander in nearly 50 years, were supposed to enter the pre-landing orbit at the same time, but the maneuver was unsuccessful.
Luna-25, which was launched on August 10—nearly a month after Chandrayaan-3’s launch—was vying with the Indian spacecraft for the right to settle on the moon’s south pole on August 21. The Russian spacecraft, however, reported a “abnormal situation” as it attempted to enter its planned pre-landing lunar orbit.
The Russian space agency Roscosmos stated in a Telegram message that “during the operation, an abnormal situation occurred on board the automatic station, which did not allow the maneuver to be performed with the specified parameters.”
Roscosmos stated that the team is analyzing the situation, but the agency also said that its equipment had detected a “micrometeorite impact” and that the preliminary data from the moon mission includes information about the chemical components of the lunar soil.
It’s unclear at this time whether the plan for the Luna-25 to try a soft landing on the lunar surface on August 21 is still in place. The mishap may or may not prevent Luna-25 from landing, according to Roscosmos.
The former Soviet Union, the United States, and China are the only three nations to have accomplished successful moon landings. Now, two space-faring nations—India and Russia—are competing to be the first to set foot on the moon’s south pole.
India’s Chandrayaan-2, which was launched in 2019, only achieved partial success because the lander’s intended soft landing ran into problems and communication broke down during the descent, preventing the rover from functioning fully. But the orbiter has been running and is still returning useful data to Earth.