Russia launched a Soyuz rocket carrying a probe to the Moon on Friday, live images showed, kicking off its first mission to the celestial body in nearly 50 years. The rocket with the Luna-25 probe lifted off at 02:10 am Moscow time (2310 GMT Thursday) from the Vostochny Cosmodrome, according to live images broadcast by the Russian space agency Roscosmos.
The spacecraft is due to reach lunar orbit in five days. It will then spend between three and seven days choosing the right spot before landing in the lunar south pole area. Roscosmos expects the probe to land on the Moon around August 21, a source in the agency told AFP.
A Soyuz-2.1b rocket booster with a Fregat upper stage and the lunar landing spacecraft Luna-25 blasts off from a launchpad at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the far eastern Amur region. (Reuters)
The spacecraft, which will remain on the Moon for a year, will be tasked with “taking (samples) and analysing the soil" as well as “conducting long-term scientific research", the Russian space agency said.
The launch is the first mission in Russia’s new lunar programme, which gets underway at a time when Roscosmos is being deprived of its partnerships with the West amid the conflict with Ukraine.
The Russian lunar mission, the first since 1976, is racing against India, which sent up its Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander last month to the south side of the moon. More broadly, post-Soviet Russia’s race is with the US and China, which both have advanced lunar exploration programmes.
The mission is important for the Russian space sector, which is suffering from funding problems, corruption scandals and increasing competition from the government, as well as from private initiatives such as billionaire Elon Musk’s Space X.