Sunday, Aug 13, 2023

Watch this space: Chandrayaan-3, Luna-25 race against backdrop of Indo-Russia cooperation

India's Chandrayaan-3 and Russia's Luna-25 are in a bit of a "race" to be the first mission to reach the lunar south pole. But this race belies the long history of cooperation in space between the two countries.

Chandrayaan-3 and Luna-25 taking offComposite image of the Chandrayaan-3 launch (left) and the Luna-25 launch on July 14 and August 10, 2023, respectively. (File photos)
Listen to this article
Watch this space: Chandrayaan-3, Luna-25 race against backdrop of Indo-Russia cooperation
1x 1.5x 1.8x

Nearly a month after ISRO’s Chandrayaan-3 launched from Sriharikota, Russian space agency Roscosmos, launched the Luna-25 mission from the Vosthochny cosmodrome. India has never landed on the Moon, and Russia is doing it for the first time in 47 years. Both missions might land on August 23.

Okay, it isn’t technically true to say that Russia is doing it for the first time in 47 years, because when it sent the last lunar probe, the country was a part of the Soviet Union. But it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that this is Russia’s first lunar probe. Despite the technicality, the country has a storied pedigree in space exploration, second only to the United States.

While it is easy to label the race between Chandrayaan-3 and Luna-25 as a competition, the two countries have a far bigger history of cooperation in space. India’s first satellite, Aryabhata, was launched by the Soviet Union in 1975. Only one Indian citizen has ever flown to space—Rakesh Sharma. Sharma flew to the Salyut 7 space station on a Soyuz rocket in 1984 as part of the USSR’s Interkosmos program.

This partnership lasted longer than the Soviet Union itself. In 2004, the two countries signed a protocol to boost cooperation in space. This included the development of the GLONASS navigation system and the launching of Russian GLONASS satellites by Indian rockets.

In fact, India’s first tryst with a moon landing was supposed to happen in partnership with Russia. Chandrayaan-2 was initially supposed to be a collaboration between India and Russia. Under the initial plan, ISRO would provide the rocket and the Orbiter module while the lander and rover modules were to be developed by Roscosmos.

The mission was initially supposed to launch in 2011, shortly after Chandrayaan-1, which happened in 2008. At the time, ISRO did not have the capability to build its own lander and rover.

Back then, the kind of lander and rover that Russia was planning to send with the Chandrayaan-2 mission developed issues during other missions. Because of this, Roscosmos had to make design corrections. But the new design brought in more problems—it turned out to be incompatible with Chandrayaan-2. This meant that Russia eventually pulled out of the collaboration.


Despite the collaboration’s unfortunate conclusion, ISRO eventually developed its own lander and rover. This task did take a few years. The combination of issues with the partnership and the development of the rover and lander meant that Chandrayaan-2 could only take off in 2019. And when the mission did launch, it only ended as a partial success. The orbiter component of the mission continued to work well while the lander did not make it to the lunar surface in one piece.

Even as recently as 2021, the governments of India and Russia signed an agreement to protect technologies and cooperate in space. A joint statement prepared by the two countries agreed to increase cooperation between ISRO and Roscosmos in various domains, according to Carnegie India. This included human spaceflight, satellite navigation, development of launch vehicles and planetary exploration.

Also, four astronauts who will be part of India’s first crewed space mission—Gaganyaan—have been trained in Russian facilities.


But going forward, there is a good chance that this cooperation will be as important to Russia as it is to India. Luna-25 is being carried out without any equipment or help from the European Space Agency (ESA). This is because ESA cut ties with Roscosmos after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Also Read
meteor shower
Acinetobacter baylyi (green) bacteria surround clumps of colorectal cancer cells.
meteor shower
Takakia plants growing

Only three countries have managed to complete a soft landing on the Moon in history—the United States, the Soviet Union, and China. Since Russia’s relations with the first entity on the list have soured, having another friend in space would be important for the country.

First published on: 13-08-2023 at 10:31 IST
Latest Comment
Post Comment
Read Comments