A rocket carrying a lunar landing craft blasted off from the Vostochny spaceport in the far eastern Amur region.
It’s expected to reach its destination on 23 August, the same day as an Indian vessel that launched last month.
Russia’s craft, Luna-25, will take about five and a half days to travel around the moon, and then spend up to a week orbiting before touching down on the surface of the moon’s south pole.
Its mission is to collect samples of rock and dust to get an understanding of the environment for a potential base.
The south pole is of particular interest to scientists, who believe its permanently shadowed polar craters may contain frozen water that could one day be transformed into air and rocket fuel.
Friday’s launch marks Russia’s first lunar mission since 1976, when it was part of the Soviet Union (USSR).
The USSR is one of only three governments to manage a successful moon landing so far, along with the US and China.
Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, has been keen to prove itself as a “space superpower” since the invasion of Ukraine saw it lose access to Western technology.
It said it wanted to prove Russia “is a state capable of delivering a payload to the moon” and “ensure Russia’s guaranteed access to the moon’s surface”.