On Wednesday, at the Global Space Exploration Conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, officials from China National Space Administration (CNSA) and Roscosmos gave a joint presentation about their three-stage plans for establishing the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS).
The ILRS could ultimately consist of a space station in lunar orbit, infrastructure based on the surface of the moon itself, and a set of mobile rovers and robots, according to the CNSA.
The officials are already in negotiations with international partners from the European Space Agency (ESA), Thailand, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia to join on their mission.
CNSA vice administrator Yanhua Wu said the mission will focus on developing robotic lunar exploration technology first, and does not yet plan to sending astronauts in the next decade at least.
"We will also do a lot of preparatory work and research work in this aspect," Yanhua said. "So, we hope to be able to actually send our researchers to the surface of the moon in the future for them to carry out missions on the surface of the moon."
The ILRS serves as a comprehensive scientific experiment base built on the lunar surface, carrying out multiple scientific research activities.
The three-phase plan has not been finalised; however, it will start with a ‘reconnaissance’ phase from this year to 2025, objectives including technology verifications for secure landings, design of the ILRS, and lunar reconnaissance with planned missions.
The second ‘constructive’ phase will be between 2026 and 2035, including the comprehensive establishment of ILRS facilities, communication and transport
The final phase will be after 2036, which concerns the ‘utilisation’ of the completed ILRS, including lunar research and exploration.
Similarly, the NASA Artemis Lunar program plans to send astronauts to Mars by 2024, using innovative technologies to explore the lunar surface,
NASA is working with nations including Japan, Canada, and the ESA on a Lunar Gateway, part of the Artemis Program. The Gateway is a multi-purpose outpost orbiting the Moon, providing essential support for sustainable, long-term human return to the Lunar surface.
Russia almost signed a collaboration with the Gateway last October, until choosing the ILRS program instead. This decision comes at a significant time as Russia and US tensions increase.
Due to sanctions on Russia’s space missions from the US, the nation has threatened to pull out of the International Space Station (ISS). They have signaled plans on building their own space station in retaliation.
Similarly, China is currently building its space station, only this week sending three taikonauts to orbit aboard the Shenzhou-12 for a three-month operation on the Tianhe module. China is not involved with the ISS due to a 2011 Wolf Agreement imposed because of national security breaches.
The announcement of China and Russia’s lunar partnership indicates their deteriorating relationship with the US, especially regarding space.
However, Russian President Vladmir Putin in an NBC interview earlier this week stated Russia is “prepared to work with the US in space”, despite these increasing tensions.
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