Sino-Russian moon station plans specified

China and Russia go ahead with a project to create a joint lunar station announced earlier this year. Last week, the two countries revealed plans and deadlines for the ambitious project and invited international partners to join it.

On 16 June, Russia and China unveiled a roadmap for a joint International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), reports According to Chinese and Russian space officials, the ILRS will consist of a space station in lunar orbit, a moon base on the surface and a set of mobile rovers and intelligent “hopping” robots.

Speaking at the Global Space Exploration Conference in St Petersburg, representatives of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos and China National Space Administration (CNSA) presented a timeline for the project. A reconnaissance phase is scheduled to begin in 2021, and by 2025, the space agencies intend to determine a site for the moon base, which is expected to be constructed between 2026 and 2035. The station is meant to become operational from 2036 onwards and provide a range of scientific facilities and equipment to study lunar topography, geomorphology, chemistry, geology and the internal structure of the moon. It is also aimed to enable space and Earth observations from the moon’s surface and support human exploration in the future.

However, neither China nor Russia plan to send astronauts to the moon within the next decade, said Vice Administrator of CNSA Yanhua Wu pointing out that the partners were focusing on developing robotic lunar exploration technology. “We will also do a lot of preparatory work and research work in this aspect,” he said adding that the two countries hoped to actually send their researchers to the surface of the moon in the future. The base on the lunar surface will be served by an orbital station in cislunar space.

The two countries are already in negotiations with international partners that may join the project including the European Space Agency, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. While China and Russia have not yet been approached by any private companies, the project is meant to be inclusive and open to everyone interested, said Deputy Director General for International Cooperation of Roscosmos Sergey Saveliyev.

In April 2021, Roscosmos announced plans to withdraw from the International Space Station and build its own space station in low Earth orbit. The first module of China’s new space station, Tianhe, was also launched into low Earth orbit earlier this year. The station is expected to receive its first astronaut crew shortly.

By Anna Litvina