Why are so many missions to the Moon failing?


Reaching the lunar surface continues to be tremendously complex. Despite the repeated feats of the last century, led by the Apollo missions, reality is stubborn. Although escaping the Earth's gravity well is no longer the problem it was in the last century, landing on the moon is no easier than it was.

WhatsApp Image 2023 08 11 at 01.20.23
Image of Luna 25 being hoisted for installation atop the Soyuz rocket. Source: Roscosmos

The most recent failures

So far this century, 23 years, which is not few, no spacecraft destined for the Moon has crashed before reaching its orbit. Even Russia overcame this challenge this week before leaving a new crater with its 25th Moon. It should be noted as an achievement because none of the beyond-Earth orbit missions of Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, had ever accomplished this.

Imminent landing of Indian Chandrayaan 3 probe prompted by another failure. That of its predecessor, Chandrayaan 2at least partially. With three components, an orbiter, a lander and a rover, it was the failure of the last two parts that crashed that led to this new mission.

That 2019 also saw the failure of another spacecraft destined for the lunar surface. Beresheet was the first private intent to land on it. Despite the private nickname, the ship enjoyed significant support from the entire Israeli government. Its hefty budget, 90 million US dollars, did not prevent it from biting the dust, or rather the regolith.

Until this year, this mission was the first and only private mission that had faced the challenge of landing on the moon. But the Japanese iSpace were thrown into it as well. With a more mining-minded business vision, it is necessary to demonstrate the ability to position mining equipment on the desired surface. On the back was a small rover from the United Arab Emirates. which allowed the company to earn an interesting amount of money. At the last moment, the ship lost control. and ended up crashing, but it was the closest anyone has ever come, except China.

China es un caso aparte, sus misiones Chang’e se cuentan por éxitos que al resto parecen escaparse. Y eso que han aterrizado 3 naves. Desde Chang’e 3 hasta la última lanzada, la 5 han bordado el aterrizaje. La más reciente también logró devolver muestras a la Tierra de forma automática.

content Vikram Impact Blink
In these 2 images we see the remains of the Vikram lander, part of ISRO's Chandrayaan 2 mission. Despite the poor resolution of the LRO topographic map, these images obtained by the LROC camera have a resolution of less than 1 meter per pixel.

What is going wrong?

Surprisingly, there has been one particularly striking case, lack of fuel. This problem indicates that the budgets are more adjusted. Large space agencies are more likely to be able to pay for larger launchers, or to maintain wider safety margins. However, more modest space companies or agencies do not.

A common problem in any probe is the software conflicts. This is the cause of two other recent failures, Luna 25 and Beresheet. In the first one, probably the failure to properly test the orders on the ground before sending them was the cause. Although it will only be one of the many pieces that have led to the loss of the ambitious Russian mission. On the other hand, the Israeli probe, due to an error in one of its guidance systems restarted. On this restart the main braking motor was turned off and there was no time to regain control over it.

Space engines have a nasty habit of failingThe failure rate is something that is actively being worked on, but it still happens. And while these failure rates have been significantly reduced, Chandrayaan 2 paid dearly when one of them shut down in mid-descent.

Despite advances in technology, in all of them, from propulsion to computing to guidance, things fail. If a smartphone, which is a mass product, fails, what will happen to a probe, which is almost handmade? One of the keys to the cheapening of space is its industrialization, but this has not reached science on the Moon. And it is not expected to arrive in this decade. The more than thirty missions that will assault our satellite They do so by being unique and distinct from one another. Although it is expected that at some point a certain flight rate will be achieved and this will support industrialization.

Martin Morala Andres