Russia has said it plans to launch a lunar lander this week after multiple delays, hoping to revive ambitions to fly to the Moon shelved almost fifty years ago.
The launch, which is scheduled for the early hours of Friday, comes as Russia’s Ukraine offensive stretches into a second year, sparking huge tensions with the West.
With the robotic Luna-25 lander, Moscow is keen to restart and build upon a highly secretive Soviet-era lunar programme, that never managed to put a cosmonaut on the moon, or in its orbit.
The Russian space agency said that a Soyuz rocket had been assembled at the Vostochny cosmodrome in the Russian Far East for the launch of the Luna-25.
“The launch is on August 11,” Roscosmos said in a statement.
“The Luna-25 will have to practise soft landing, take and analyse soil samples and conduct long-term scientific research,” the statement added.
The four-legged lander, which weighs around 800 kilograms, is expected to touch down in the region of the lunar south pole. By contrast, most Moon landings occur near the lunar equator.
The launch is the first mission of Moscow’s new lunar program and comes as Russia looks to strengthen cooperation in space with China amid ruptured ties with the West.
After President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine last year, the European Space Agency (ESA) said it would not cooperate with Moscow on the upcoming Luna-25 launch as well as future 26 and 27 missions.
Despite the pullout, Moscow said at the time it would go ahead with its lunar plans and replace ESA equipment with Russian-made scientific instruments.
Speaking at the Vostochny cosmodrome last year, Putin said the Soviet Union put the first man into space in 1961 despite “total” sanctions. He insisted Moscow would develop its lunar programme despite current Western sanctions.