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Is Russia ‘rejoining’ the space race, or simply giving its due to China?

In 2022 a Russian critic revealed their frustration with the repeated delays in Russia’s unmanned Moon probe program.
FPI / August 16, 2023


By Richard Fisher

Russian dictator Vladimir Putin needs to produce some good news for the Russian people, at least to offer some contrast with his disastrous war against Ukraine that has isolated Russia from most of the civilized world.

Putin’s war has resulted in painful economic embargoes with the Russian Ruble losing 25 percent of its value this year, and has created a constant threat of coups, as Putin’s war threatens to accelerate Russia’s subordination to the Chinese Communist Party global hegemony.

With the launch of the first Russian unmanned probe to the Moon in 47 years, might Putin be trying to generate some of that good news he needs?

Or is the reality that even in his appeals to Russian pride in the glory of their former space program, Putin is simply “paying his bills” to China?

After a four-year delay, on Aug. 10 Russia launched its Luna-25 unmanned Moon probe on a Soyuz-2.1b rocket from its new Vostochny Cosmodrome near Vladivostok in the Russian Far East.

Luna-25 could land near the South Pole of the Moon as early as Aug. 21, where its main advertised mission will be to find lunar water-ice.

But just a successful landing on the Moon would constitute a huge public relations victory for the Russian space program and for Putin.

The last successful landing on the Moon for an unmanned Russian probe was the Soviet-era Luna-24 in August 1976.

The Soviet record was 7 successful soft landings on the Moon out of 13 attempts to send probes carrying Moon rovers or Moon sample return systems.

The program that became Luna-25 started in the late 1990s and was led by NPO Lavochkin, which designed most other Soviet unmanned Moon probes.

Assuming Luna-25 meets with some success, Russia plans follow up missions.

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