New Sino-Russian space project revealed

Roscosmos is planning to build a research station on the Moon in cooperation with China’s space agency instead of participating in the US-led programme for lunar exploration. The new project may help Russia score points in the space race, in which it began to lag behind other countries.

Russia and China have unveiled plans for a joint lunar space station, reports The Guardian. On 9 March, Russian space agency Roscosmos announced that it had signed an agreement with China’s National Space Administration (CNSA) to develop a “complex of experimental research facilities created on the surface and/or in the orbit of the moon”.

Head of Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin invited his Chinese counterpart Zhang Kejian to the launch of Russia’s first modern lunar lander Luna 25, which is scheduled for October 2021. The country, which sent the first human into space in 1961, lost its superiority in space exploration in the post-Soviet era and was outperformed by China and the US.

The latter launched its first crewed space flight a month after Russia, sending Alan Shepard up on Mercury-Redstone 3. However, now the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is leading the race. Last week, NASA’s Perseverance rover conducted its first drive on Mars. The American agency aims to conduct a human mission to the planet, although planning is still at the early stages. While Moscow and Washington are collaborating in the space sector, Russia did not sign the Artemis Accord for lunar exploration last year. The US-led programme, which was signed by seven other countries, envisages landing people on the moon by 2024.

In 2020, Roscosmos lost its monopoly on crewed flights to the International Space Station, as private US company SpaceX performed its first successful manned mission to the station in November. SpaceX has announced plans to fly several space tourists to the moon orbit in 2023.

As for China, it performed a mission that brought rock and soil samples from the Moon back to Earth for the first time in over 40 years in December 2020. It was followed by the country’s first independent interplanetary mission Tianwen-1. Currently, the spacecraft is orbiting Mars. Beijing has sought closer partnership with Moscow in this area, and Chen Lan, an independent analyst specialising in China’s space programme, considers the joint lunar space station to be “a big deal”. “This will be the largest international space cooperation project for China, so it’s significant,” he said. The CNSA stated that the project was “open to all interested countries and international partners”.

By Anna Litvina

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