Russia's ongoing moon mission will likely represent the "last hurrah" of the country's illustrious space program, an expert has told Brussels Signal. (EPA-EFE/ROSCOSMOS STATE SPACE CORPORATION)


Russian moon-mission likely the ‘last hurrah’ for its space programme, expert says


Russia’s latest moon mission will probably represent the “last hurrah” of the country’s illustrious space programme, an expert has told Brussels Signal.

Dr John B Sheldon, a co-founder of the UK-based AstroAnalytica research and consulting group, said Russia’s current Luna-25 craft, now in orbit around the moon, may end up marking a milestone in space exploration but ultimately did not bode well for the country’s future off-Earth endeavours.

“Russia’s Luna-25 is a Potemkin space mission, in that it will be the only one of its kind from the decrepit Russian space programme and provides a false sense that Russia’s space sector is healthy and filled with promise,” Sheldon told Brussels Signal.

He said the country’s space programme now appeared to be in a “death spiral”, with Luna-25 representing something of an “ironic” ending considering it may end up making history by being the first lunar vehicle to reach the moon’s resource-rich South Pole.

“Beyond Luna-25, however, things are grim in the Russian space programme across every imaginable front,” Sheldon claimed, noting that launches planned for after Luna-25 have been cancelled due to lack of funding, alongside vital international partners for the projects abandoning Russia in the wake of the Ukraine war.

“Barring some miraculous turnaround in Russia’s political and economic fortunes in the coming years, I suspect that Luna-25 will be the last hurrah for Russia’s space programme,” he concluded. “And its demise is a self-inflicted tragedy given its proud heritage.”

Having achieved lunar orbit on August 17, the Luna-25 mission is set to attempt to land on the moon on August 21.

So far, ROSCOSMOS, the state corporation of the Russian Federation responsible for space flights, cosmonautics programmes and aerospace research, appears to have had better luck with the project than the European Space Agency [ESA] has had with its Ariane 6 rocket.

Despite being initially slated for lift-off sometime in 2020, the European Union-funded ESA has been forced to delay the spacecraft’s maiden flight multiple times, leaving the bloc reliant on the likes of Elon Musk’s SpaceX launch vehicles.

The latest of these delays was confirmed in the past few days, with the Ariane 6 spacecraft now likely to see its first launch in 2024.

Speaking about the Ariane 6 delay, Sheldon noted that the ESA was battling a number of major problems, especially regarding commercial competition.

“Europe generally is unable to scale and sustain a disruptive new space ecosystem since legacy space-industry stakeholders are able to quash any upstarts,” he said.

“This leads to bright young European space engineers and entrepreneurs moving to the US and elsewhere to pursue their ventures,” he added, before criticising the ESA for trying to take on SpaceX “at its own game with Ariane 6”.

Despite such problems, Sheldon said the difficulties with the ESA are dwarfed by the issues facing Russia.

“I’d rather have to deal with ESA’s problems and challenges than those that are responsible for the Russian space programme’s death spiral,” he said.