It was a story of two space programs. On Sunday, Russia’s Luna-25 lander broke down while it was preparing to land on the moon’s south pole the next day, only to crash into the lunar surface. Had it landed, it would have been the country’s first return to the moon since 1976, when it was known as the Soviet Union. Instead, it ended up being another black eye for a beleaguered space program.
A few days later, the Indian lander Chandrayaan-3 successfully landed on the south pole of the moon, making India the fourth country to land on the surface of the moon after the Soviet Union, the United States and China. There, researchers hope to deploy a rover to search for and study ice and soil in the region, which many suspect contains valuable resources vital to future lunar missions.
Although it was a largely successful mission, the Chandrayaan-3 lander highlighted the relative decline of Russia’s civilian space agency, Roscosmos. It had seen its standing on the world stage take a hit in the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine, and was already reeling from a litany of embarrassing news from the rants of its former boss Dmitry Rogozin to multiple life-threatening incidents. Caused to the astronauts on the International Space Station. The failure of Luna-25 calls into question Roscosmos’ long-term ambitions, and whether or not we are witnessing the death rattle of Russia’s space ambitions.
“The problems with Roscosmos definitely existed before the invasion of Ukraine,” John Logsdon, founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, told The Daily Beast. He said the issues plaguing Russia’s space program reflected the same ones that have plagued the country for decades, including outright Kafkaesque bureaucracy and financial irregularities.
“They didn’t have enough funding or enough priority, but they had a lot of corruption,” Logsdon said.
Indeed, a lack of funding has crippled the once proud space program. In 2015, the Russian government cut spending on Roscosmos by more than a third due to the financial crisis caused by Western economic sanctions in response to its 2014 invasion of Ukraine. This led to a significant delay in the agency’s plans to establish its own space station by 2023– Which has not happened clearly and has not gained much development since its announcement.
And in 2018, Roscosmos faced budget cuts again amounting to almost $2.4 billion. The cuts have caused further delays in its space ambitions as well as the construction of its spaceports. This is despite Russian President Vladimir Putin saying in the same year: “It is necessary to radically improve the quality and reliability of spacecraft and launch vehicles.” […] To maintain Russia’s increasingly threatened leadership in space.
More recently, in 2021, Putin announced another cut in funding for Roscosmos for the next three years due to the financial crisis caused by Western economic sanctions in response to its invasion of Ukraine (stop us if you’ve heard this before). Also in the background of all this was the space agency’s announcement that it lost a whopping $262.4 million in revenue in 2020 due to a variety of issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite this, Putin still expresses a desire for Roscosmos to restore the country’s space ambitions to their former hegemony, worrying that it will quickly be overtaken by Western competition from the likes of SpaceX. However, much of this can likely be attributed to Putin’s desire for the country to dominate space for geopolitical rather than scientific purposes.
Logsdon explained that this can be seen through Moscow’s focus on the Russian Aerospace Forces, its response to the American Aerospace Force. Not only has this branch commanded the majority of focus when it comes to Russia’s space ambitions, but it also controls the resources needed for space exploration.
“The Russian equivalent of the Army’s Space Force has been getting priority funding over the past 10 years or so,” he said. “They have developed a wide range of military capabilities that the United States considers somewhat of a threat.”
“The military controls all launch vehicles,” Logsdon added. This means that Roscosmos lacks the autonomy and autonomy to carry out missions when compared to the likes of NASA.
There is also the rampant corruption that has occurred throughout Roscosmos, exacerbated by its former boss, Rogozin. Although he has since left office in the aftermath of the Ukrainian invasion, many space experts blame Rogozin for the agency’s current state.
Under his wing, Roscosmos has gone through a series of embarrassing failed launches and suffered corruption on a large scale. Misappropriation of funds for the construction of the Vostochny cosmodrome in eastern Russia — the same spaceport from which the ill-fated Luna 25 satellite was launched — has led to prison sentences for four former construction company executives in 2021.
This brings us to the day, when Roscosmos’ latest lunar spaceflight plan collapsed. This failure represents a major setback for the agency’s hopes of establishing a foothold on the moon, which has become a shining prize for the world’s spacefaring nations.
This is due to the fact that the Moon – especially its south pole – is believed to be rich in resources and materials that future lunar colonies can draw on, such as water and minerals. This is why China and India recently sent rovers to the Moon. This is also why the United States and NASA have poured billions of dollars into the Artemis program to return American astronauts to the moon and establish a permanent base.
“There is a very strong speculation that there are resources in the craters [lunar] “Antarctica has technical and economic values as well as scientific interest,” Logsdon said. “There is a ‘race’ to be the first to reach the Antarctic region.”
However, with Roscosmos now performing with both hands tied behind its back, it is now far behind the competition, no matter what Putin might say. Russia’s space industry is not as advanced or well-funded as in the West, which boasts private companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin.
This does not mean that Roskosmos should be written off just yet, Logsdon warned. He added, “It depends on how the Russian leadership reacts to this failure.” “They can say — as the United States did after the shuttle failure, or the Apollo 1 fire, or some of our failures on Mars — that this is unacceptable and we have to go back to where we want to be. Or they can say: let’s not throw good money after money The bad, underestimating the civic program.
But for now, things are looking bleak for Roscosmos. The famous Soviet-Russian space program once demonstrated near complete dominance when it came to space. It has produced heroes like Yuri Gagarin, and groundbreaking events like the first artificial satellite into orbit and interplanetary probes to Venus and Mars.
Now, despite her lofty ambition, she is a shadow of her former self – a victim of her own corruption, incompetence, and greed.
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