Today's Headlines

Today's Headlines - 21 August 2023

Russia’s Luna-25 crashes

GS Paper - 3 (Space Technology)

Russia’s Moon mission ended in failure after its spacecraft Luna-25 spun out of control and crashed into the moon, Russian space agency Roscosmos said on 20 August 2023.

What happened to Luna-25?

  • Luna-25 was supposed to land on the Moon on 21 August 2023, days ahead of India’s Chandrayaan-3. Its intended landing site was close to Chandrayaan-3’s, near the lunar south pole.
  • The crash was confirmed a day after Roscosmos reported an “abnormal situation” which its specialists were analysing.
  • The space agency had said on 19 August 2023 that it had lost contact with the aircraft as it was shunted into pre-landing orbit.
  • On 19 August 2023, in accordance with the flight program of the Luna-25 spacecraft, an impulse was provided for the formation of its pre-landing elliptical orbit.
  • Communication with the Luna-25 spacecraft was interrupted. The measures taken on 19 and 20 August 2023 to search for the device and get into contact with it did not produce any results. According to the results of the preliminary analysis, due to the deviation of the actual parameters of the impulse from the calculated ones, the device switched to an off-design orbit and ceased to exist as a result of a collision with the lunar surface, Roscosmos said.
  • The space agency also said, A specially formed interdepartmental commission will deal with the issues of clarifying the reasons for the loss of the Moon [mission].

What was the Luna-25 mission?

  • Although launched on 10 August 2023, almost a month after Chandrayaan-3’s launch on 14 July, Luna-25 rode on a powerful rocket to reach the lunar orbit in just six days.
  • It was supposed to land on the lunar South Pole before Chandrayaan-3, and its success would have made Russia the first country to do so. Luna-25’s mission life was for one year, and its lift-off mass was 1,750 kg.
  • It did not carry a rover, but had eight payloads mainly to study the soil compositiondust particles in the polar exosphere, and most importantly detect surface water on the moon.


  • The failure of Luna-25 underlines how tricky soft-landings on the Moon are, and echoes India’s heartbreak of 2019.
  • Since 1976, there has been just one country, China, which has been successful in getting its spacecraft to soft land on the moon.
  • It has done that twice, with Chang’e 3 and Chang’e 4. All other attempts in the last ten years, by IndiaIsraelJapan and now Russia, have remained unsuccessful.
  • If Chandrayaan-3 is able to land successfullyIndia would become just the fourth country in the world, after the United States, the erstwhile Soviet Union and China, to have landed a spacecraft on moon, and the first-ever to land close to the lunar south pole.


Private rockets and 3D-printed engines

GS Paper - 3 (Emerging Technology)

Chennai-based space-tech startup Agnikul Cosmos announced that it had taken a rocket that it has developed to a launchpad in Sriharikota to “commence integration checks” for a proposed suborbital space flight. A successful flight will make Agnikul the second Indian space-tech company to send a vehicle to space after Hyderabad-based Skyroot Aerospace. The launch of Skyroot’s 545-kg rocket named Vikram-S in November 2022 marked the launch of India’s private space industry.

What is Agnikul’s space vehicle?

  • Agnikul said it's Suborbital Tech Demonstrator (SorTeDsingle-stage launch vehicle, called Agnibaan, is driven by the company’s patented Agnilet engine. Agnibaan SOrTeD will lift off vertically & follow a predetermined trajectory.
  • Agnibaan can carry payloads up to 100 kg to a low Earth orbit (LEO) up to 700 km.
  • The vehicle is 18 m in height1.3 m in diameter, and has a liftoff mass of 14,000 kg. The payload envelope measures 2m x 1.5m and can carry one or more satellites.

What sort of engine does Agnikul have?

  • The Agnilet engine is an entirely 3D-printed, single-piece, 6 kN semi-cryogenic engine.
  • The engine, which uses a mixture of liquid kerosene at room temperature and supercold liquid oxygen as propellant, was tested last year at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram.
  • 3D printing is a sweet spot for launch vehicles”, and emphasised it can be used to manufacture multiple iterations of complex and customised designs, speeding up the research and development process.
  • In 2021Skyroot had successfully demonstrated the country’s first privately developed cryogenic engineDhawan-1, which too was completely 3D printed, using a superalloy, by a process that cut the manufacturing time by 95 per cent.

What is the role of the private sector in space?

  • In June 2020, the government approved the creation of the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) to ensure greater private participation in India’s space activities.
  • Then chairman of ISRO K Sivan had said the initiative was part of an important set of reforms to open up the space sector and make space-based applications and services more widely accessible to everyone.
  • At the time, Indian industry had a barely 3% share in the rapidly growing global space economy, which was already worth at least $360 billion.
  • Only 2% of this market was for rocket and satellite launch services95% related to satellite-based services and ground-based systems.
  • Indian industry was, however, unable to compete, because its role has traditionally been to supply components and subsystems.
  • Indian industries did not have the resources or the technology to undertake independent space projects of the kind that companies such as SpaceX have been doing in the United States.

How does ISRO benefit from this?

  • There are two main reasons why enhanced private involvement in the space sector is important: one is commercial, and the other strategic.
  • Private participation will free up ISRO to concentrate on scienceresearch and developmentinterplanetary exploration, and strategic launches.
  • Right now, too much of ISRO’s resources are consumed by routine activities that delay its more strategic objectives.
  • There is no reason why ISRO alone should be launching weather or communication satellites. The world over, an increasing number of private players are taking over this activity for commercial benefits.
  • And ISRO, like NASA, is essentially a scientific organisation whose main objective is exploration of space and carrying out scientific missions.

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