A photo made available by the Indian Space Research Organisation shows the launch of Chandrayaan 3 on 14 July 2023. EFE/ISRO FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY (MANDATORY CREDIT)

New Lunar Showdown: India, Russia in race to Moon’s South Pole

By Hugo Barcia

A picture published on Twitter (renamed X) by the Indian Space Research Organisation shows the Moon, photographed by the Indian probe Chandrayaan 3, a day after entering the lunar orbit, 10 August 2023. EFE/ISRO EDITORIAL USE ONLY (MANDATORY CREDIT)

New Delhi, Aug 10 (EFE).- India and Russia could, in the coming weeks, emulate the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union (USSR) in the previous century, as they attempt to become the first nation to reach the south pole of the Moon.

The race is seen to be very tight and could be decided by a matter of a few hours.

On July 14, India launched its Chandrayaan-3 space mission to the Moon, which entered lunar orbit on Aug. 5. The mission seeks to finally land at its southernmost point of the Moon on Aug. 23.

This would make India the fourth country to successfully land a probe on the Moon – after the United States, Russia and China – and the first nation to reach its south pole.

This is India’s second attempt in this mission after the previous one in 2019 made a hard landing on the Moon.

However, when it seemed that the only obstacle for this ambitious undertaking was to correctly execute the lunar landing maneuver, Russia announced this week the launch of its own mission with the same destination: the south pole of the Moon.

The Russian mission, named Luna-25, will take off this Friday, marking a resumption of its lunar program, which has been frozen since 1976, when the country was still a part of the USSR.

Despite leaving Earth 28 days after its Indian competitor, the Russian space agency Roscosmos hopes to reach its destination before it.

According to the calculations of the Russian space agency, the moon landing of its Lunar-25 mission is set to occur between Aug. 21-23.

After its launch on Aug. 11 from the Vostochny cosmodrome, the Russian mission will take five days to reach the lunar orbit, where it will remain for five to seven days before making a landing at the south pole, according to Roscosmos.

When asked about this unexpected competitor, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) spokesperson BHM Darukesha told EFE they were aware of the progress of the Russian mission through the media, but declined to comment on it.

In comparison, the Indian mission is expected to reach the lunar surface 40 days after its launch, a delay associated with a lack of power of the rocket carrying the probe into space, despite it being the heaviest ISRO has.

This led the Indian spacecraft to orbit the Earth for 20 days, before heading to the Moon. It will also orbit another 18 days during which it will progressively approach its surface before attempting the Moon landing on Aug. 23.

Regardless of the winner of this race, both missions are scheduled to be deployed in different areas of the south pole of the Moon, with different durations.

While the Russian project will test new moon landing technologies, analyze surface samples and conduct long-term research, the Indian mission will remain active during a single lunar day of sunlight, which is roughly equal to 14 Earth days.

During this period, the Indian probe, consisting of a lander and an explorer, will conduct scientific experiments and collect data on the mineral composition of the natural satellite and the presence of water on the Moon.

The progress of both missions, however, have witnessed successive delays in their launch dates.

The take-off of Luna-25 was initially scheduled for October 2021, but it was progressively delayed until this month.

In the initial launch in 2021, the European Space Agency (ESA) was supposed to send some of its technology through a cooperation agreement with Russia, which broke down after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Indian mission too suffered a delay of more than a year, as the ISRO had scheduled its take-off for 2021.

However, the Indian scientists have been cautious following the failure of Chandrayaan-2, which crashed in September 2019 due to technical problems in slowing down while landing on the lunar surface.

In the four years that have passed since then, the ISRO has extensively analyzed and corrected all the errors that led to the failure in 2019.

The chief of the Indian space agency, S. Somanath, even told the media that he was fully convinced of the success of the current Moon mission.

On the other hand, Roscosmos Director General Yuri Borisov, during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in June, underlined that such missions always carry a risk and warned that the probability of success is usually around 70 percent. EFE