Russia goes head-to-head with India in race to the moon

11 Aug 2023

Image: © Artsiom P/

The spacecraft of the two countries are expected to reach the moon on the same day later this month, with Russia launching its first lunar mission in nearly 50 years.

Russia has reignited its lunar ambitions, with a new rocket launch aimed at the moon’s south pole, a region that may hold pockets of water in the form of ice.

This marks the first lunar mission Russia has launched since 1976, during the time of the Soviet Union. The Soyuz 2.1b rocket shot into space from the Vostochny spaceport, carrying the Luna-25 spacecraft.

The spacecraft is now in a race against India to reach the moon’s south pole first. India successfully launched the Chandrayaan-3 mission last month, which is the country’s third attempt at a mission to the surface of the moon.

Despite the headstart, both India’s and Russia’s lunar missions are expected to reach the moon on 23 August, Sky News reports. Russia’s craft is expected to spend roughly one week in orbit before touching down on the moon’s surface.

The purpose of the mission is to collect samples of the surface and scope out the region for a potential base. The lunar vehicle is expected to operate on the moon for a year, Reuters reports.

In recent years, carbon dioxide cold traps have been detected on the moon – particularly in the south pole region – which could contain solid CO2. Explorers can use this CO2 to make steel, rocket fuel and biological materials to stay on the moon for longer, making such cold traps high priority sites for lunar missions.

Other countries are looking at the moon’s south pole as an attractive site for their lunar ambitions. NASA is planning to send astronauts to the south pole of the moon by 2025 and to use the moon’s natural resources in preparation for missions to Mars.

Geopolitical tensions

Russia’s space endeavours were hit last year when the invasion of Ukraine began, which caused the European Space Agency to cut ties with Russia on some of its planned missions.

The Russian space agency – Roscosmos – was originally going to work with the ESA on three lunar missions, including the ExoMars mission which was originally scheduled for September 2022. It is understood that mission has been pushed back to 2028.

Russia remains part of the International Space Station programme, which is said to be one of the few remaining points of cooperation between it and the US. But Russia plans to leave this programme next year to focus on building its own orbital outpost.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic