Over a month after its ambitious mission had a fiery end on the Moon, Russia’s state space corporation, Roscosmos, has revealed that a malfunction resulted in the crash. A part that was supposed to stop the spacecraft’s engine didn’t work correctly, so it kept firing for much longer than needed.
That caused the Luna 25 lander to accelerate, which made it spin uncontrollably. That ultimately led to the spacecraft crashing into the Moon on August 19, killing it. It marked the end of Russia’s first lunar mission in 47 years and sparked doubts about Moscow’s ability to compete with big powers like the US and China in space.
It was supposed to stay on the Moon for a year collecting soil samples and looking for water, an ingredient enthusiasts hope can be used to make rocket fuel for future launches and support potential colonies living on the Moon. It also planned to send back high-resolution photos.
The probe was en route to the Moon’s south pole, an area scientists believe could contain essential water reserves and other valuable elements. It was in a race with India’s Chandrayaan-3 to be the first probe to reach the region. But after it lost contact with Roscosmos on Saturday, a preliminary analysis found that the spacecraft “ceased to exist due to a collision with the Moon’s surface,” the agency said Sunday.
The cause of the accident was a failure of the onboard control unit during the transfer maneuver from an elliptical lunar orbit to a circular pre-landing one. According to the investigation, the thrusters were supposed to fire for 84 seconds, but they stayed on for 127. This overheated the engine and sent the spacecraft on a trajectory toward the Moon.
Roscosmos said that attempts to regain contact with the probe over the weekend failed. It will form an interdepartmental commission to investigate the incident.
The loss of Luna 25 was a blow for Russia, which had been puffed up by a new generation of cosmonauts who had grown up under the Soviets’ space program. The agency is now trying to rebuild its reputation as a significant player in space.