Europe cancels joint lunar missions with Russia
Another spatial causality of the country’s ongoing attack on Ukraine is Russia’s lunar cooperation plans.
In a press release dated April 13, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced that it sever cooperative activities with Russia on the upcoming Luna-25, 26 and 27 missions. The agency wrote that “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and the resulting sanctions put in place represent a fundamental change in circumstances and prevent ESA from implementing implement the planned lunar cooperation”.
Europe’s decision to sever ties with Russia over the Luna program follows ESA’s suspension of the ExoMars mission, a collaboration with Russia scheduled to launch in September. ExoMars would have paired an ESA-built Mars rover with a Russian-supplied lander for a mission to the Red Planet. (That landing module is still in Europe. Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Russia’s Roscosmos space program, recently claimed that it “must be returned. »
Russian moon plans
Despite the withdrawal of the ESA, Russia seems ready to move forward with its lunar exploration program. Rogozin plans to replace ESA equipment with Russian devices. “Instead of these instruments, we will put our scientific instruments,” he said. underline during an appearance on a Russian television channel.
The planned Luna missions revive an old Soviet Union endeavor that ended decades ago. The most recent of the pioneering Soviet lunar missions was Luna-24, which returned about six ounces (170 grams) of near-moon collectibles to Earth in 1976. But shaping Russia’s renewed prospecting efforts is a work in progress.
The upcoming Luna-25 mission will test soft landing technology to gently land on the moon’s surface. To this end, ESA was to provide Pilot-D, a navigation camera. The lander is also intended to assess natural resources, including water, at the moon’s south pole and to study the effects of cosmic rays and electromagnetic radiation on the lunar surface. Luna-25 was originally scheduled to take off last year, in October 2021, but its dispatch has been repeatedly delayed. The current target date is August 2022, according to Alexander Mitkin, deputy general designer of electrical systems for the Russian aerospace company that built and tested the probe, NPO Lavochkin. However, further testing may delay its launch until later in the year.
“We will resume the lunar programsaid Russian President Vladimir Putin during an April 12 visit to the country’s Vostochny Cosmodrome. “We are driven by the desire of our ancestors to move forward. Despite all the difficulties and attempts to impede us in this movement from the outside, we will certainly consistently and persistently implement all plans.
The lunar diary
Russia is also planning two follow-up missions after Luna-25: Luna-26, a mission to study the Moon from low polar orbit, and another lander mission, Luna-27, which would study lunar regolith on the surface. .
For Luna-27, ESA worked on Prospect, a robotic drill with a suite of scientific instruments designed to penetrate the moon’s soil, acquire lunar samples and deliver them to a miniature laboratory housed on the probe. The craft was also to land on the moon using a variant of the European Pilot-D navigation camera.
Once Luna-27 reached the moon’s surface, it was to deploy ESA’s Prospect drill and a Russian instrument to search for water ice and other chemicals below the surface. Operating in temperatures of -150 degrees Celsius and drilling over a meter deep, Prospect was designed to perform a deep dive in the frozen lunar terrain.
In the meantime, ESA recently announced that the agency has already secured an opportunity for Luna-27 Prospect equipment to fly on a NASA-led Commercial Lunar Payload Services flight. Additionally, the announcement states that ESA is purchasing an alternate flight opportunity with “a commercial service provider” to test the agency’s Pilot-D for precision landing and hazard avoidance. This capability, ESA explained, is necessary for European lunar exploration activities such as the European Large Logistics Lander project.
“As the rest of the world teams up to explore our lunar neighbor with daring robotic missions, Russian collaborations on Luna are being abandoned by ESA due to Russian aggression against Ukraine,” says Colleen Hartman, Director space and aeronautics at the Space Studies Board. at the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. “ESA’s bold move allows free nations to enhance their international lunar collaborations with hardware once intended for a Russian mission. Russia can go to the moon alone, but space exploration is best done with trusted partners who share the excitement of exploration and discovery.
Sino-Russian space cooperation?
ESA is not the only agency Roscosmos was involved with, but its seemingly more comfortable cooperation with China may also be in flux. Luna-25 was to open a long-term Russian lunar program that included missions to study the moon from orbit and the surface, collect and return lunar soil to Earth, and work with the China National Space Administration to create a station International Lunar Research Center (ILRS). “We don’t just have memoranda; we already have intergovernmental agreements with China on the creation of a lunar research base,” Rogozin said during his appearance on Russian television.
But relations between Russian and Chinese scientists are currently broken, according to Alexander Sergeev, president of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Speaking at the Digital International Relations conference held at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations earlier this month, Sergeev said that the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Chinese partners, such as ESA, had suspended contacts with Russian scientists on joint projects. “I can directly say that our Chinese scientific colleagues have also ‘taken a break,'” he said, according to a Russian news agency RIA Novosti report. “Over the past month, we have not been able to start a serious discussion about the situation with them despite [earlier] a well-built cooperation with regular communication.
It is unclear to what extent this pause in collaboration with China will influence joint work on the ILRS. Last year, China’s National Space Administration and Roscosmos signed an intergovernmental memorandum of understanding on establishing a lunar research base to be operational by 2036.
But according to Anatoly Zak of RussianSpaceWeb.com, based on internal Russian policy documents, “China never had any real plans to cooperate with Russia on the moon base or anything else of importance in space”.
Zak, a Russian space program expert, calls the ILRS “just a low-cost propaganda campaign for the West, with nothing behind it except some cartoonish presentations and non-binding statements.” At this point, he says, the Chinese space program is so far ahead of any Russian project that it’s virtually impossible for the two to have an equal partnership. For several months, this situation has been getting worse, adds Zak. “The Chinese decision to cut wider scientific ties is completely in line with what was already happening,” he says.
Renationalization of space exploration
The breakdown of space cooperation between Russia and its international partners has multiple consequences, says Andrew Jenks, professor of Russian history and history of technology at California State University, Long Beach. “Space collaboration had been, ironically, one of the ways of trying to transcend competition and hostility on Earth, in part by making science and technology a seemingly neutral ground on which ideological combatants could meet. and cooperate,” he said. “But sometimes, like now, the thrust of Earth politics is such that it destroys the political will to collaborate in space.”
Punishing Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and making a statement against Russia’s brutal actions will hurt Western participants as well as Russia, Jenks adds. Putin has made increasing isolation from the West – the creation of a “Fortress Russia” – one of his goals, and he is moving rapidly in this direction in all areas, including space exploration, says Jenks. “I am thinking of all the thousands of space engineers, entrepreneurs and scientists whose careers and livelihoods have been suspended or even derailed due to the decision to discontinue participation in the Luna missions, as well as the earlier cancellation of the ExoMars rover with Roscosmos,” he says.
Looking at the current situation as a historian, Jenks says the period of space collaboration that began decades ago may be coming to an end. “Now a renationalization of space exploration is happening,” he says. Jenks notes a potential silver lining to this divide: Europe could find a way to wean itself off reliance on Russian rockets for launches and develop alternative sources.
Although the moon looms large in the future agendas of Russia, China, and the United States, this world appears to be a free-floating free-for-all.