China and Russia say they will build a lunar research station, possibly on the moon’s surface, marking the start of a new era in space cooperation between the two countries
BEIJING -- China and Russia said they will build a lunar research station, possibly on the moon's surface, marking the start of a new era in space cooperation between the two countries.
A statement posted on the website of the China National Space Administration Wednesday said the International Lunar Research Station would also be open to use by other countries, but gave no timeline for its construction.
It described the project as a “comprehensive scientific experiment base with the capability of long-term autonomous operation.”
The station would be “built on the lunar surface and/or on the lunar orbit that will carry out ... scientific research activities such as the lunar exploration and utilization, lunar-based observation, basic scientific experiment and technical verification," the statement said.
It said a memorandum of understanding on the project was signed Tuesday by Zhang Kejian, administrator of the China National Space Administration, and Russian space agency Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin.
China drew heavily on Russian expertise in the early years of its space program, but has largely forged its own path since launching its first crewed mission in 2003. Despite that, China's Shenzhou spaceships closely resemble Russia's Soyuz capsules and the CNSA has worked with countries around the world, apart from the U.S. Congress bans almost all contacts between NASA and China over concerns about technology theft and the secretive, military-backed nature of China's space program.
Russia and China will “adhere to the principle of ‘co-consultation, joint construction, and shared benefits,' facilitate extensive cooperation in the ILRS, open to all interested countries and international partners, strengthen scientific research exchanges, and promote humanity’s exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purpose," the Chinese statement said.
Russia is a participant in the International Space Station but its space program has been somewhat eclipsed by those of China, the U.S., India and others. In its most recent development, Russia successfully test-launched its heavy lift Angara A5 space rocket for the second time in December after lengthy delays and technical problems.
China has planned four crewed missions this year to work on its first permanent orbiting space station, the core module of which could be launched as soon as next month.
China has already launched two smaller experimental space stations, placed a rover on the little-explored far side of the moon in 2019 and has a spacecraft, the Tianwen-1, in a parking orbit around Mars in anticipation of landing a rover on the surface in the coming months. If it succeeds, China would become only the second country after the U.S. to put a spacecraft on Mars.
China and Russia to build lunar space station
China and Russia have announced plans to build a lunar space station.
Russian space agency Roscosmos says it has signed an agreement with China's National Space Administration to develop research facilities on the surface of the moon, in orbit or both.
A statement from both countries' space agencies says it will be available for use by other nations.
It comes as Russia prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of its first-ever manned space flight.
The International Scientific Lunar Station will carry out a wide range of scientific research including exploration and utilisation of the moon, a statement from both agencies said.
"China and Russia will use their accumulated experience in space science, research and development and use of space equipment and space technology to jointly develop a road map for the construction of an international lunar scientific research station," the statement (in Mandarin) said.
It added that both Russia and China will collaborate in the planning, design, development and operation of the research station.
Chen Lan, an analyst who specialises in China's space programme, told AFP news agency that the project was a "big deal".
"This will be the largest international space cooperation project for China, so it's significant," he said.
China is a relatively late bloomer when it comes to the world of space exploration but last December its Chang'e-5 probe successfully brought back rock and "soil" it picked up from the moon. At the time it was seen as another demonstration of the country's increasing capability in space.
Russia, which pioneered space exploration, has been eclipsed by China and the United States in recent years. Last year it lost its monopoly on taking astronauts to the International Space station following SpaceX's successful launch.
The US has announced plans to return to the moon by 2024. The programme, called Artemis, will see a man and woman step on the lunar surface in what would be the first landing with humans since 1972.