Russia-China to Cooperate on Lunar Space Station

On Feb­ru­ary 11, the Krem­lin for­mal­ly autho­rized the Russ­ian space agency, Roscos­mos, to sign a mem­o­ran­dum of under­stand­ing with the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment to coop­er­ate on the devel­op­ment of an inter­na­tion­al lunar space sta­tion.  The autho­riza­tion arrived days after it was report­ed that talks had com­menced on the basis of “mutu­al inter­est” in the lunar sta­tion.  The Chi­na Nation­al Space Admin­is­tra­tion is plan­ning to build a research sta­tion on the moon’s south pole with­in the next 10 years.

In an inter­view with the Russ­ian media last year, the Gen­er­al Direc­tor of Roscos­mos, Dmitri Rogozin, crit­i­cized the NASA-led Artemis moon explo­ration pro­gram as a “polit­i­cal project,” claim­ing that it aligns with NATO mil­i­tary objec­tives.  Since his remarks, media reports (par­tic­u­lar­ly in the Chi­nese and Russ­ian media) have con­sis­tent­ly framed Rogozin’s seem­ing rejec­tion of the NASA pro­gram in the con­text of a piv­ot by Roscos­mos toward Chi­nese-led space projects (such as the Inter­na­tion­al Lunar Research Sta­tion) and away from Russia‑U.S. part­ner­ships, such as the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion (ISS).  For exam­ple, Rus­sia opt­ed not to join eight nations in sign­ing the Artemis Accords last Octo­ber, which are a set of prin­ci­ples and norms for part­ners who wish to par­tic­i­pate on the Artemis pro­gram.

The planned Chi­nese lunar sta­tion is among a num­ber of space projects being pur­sued by Bei­jing that are intend­ed to make the coun­try com­pet­i­tive – and, Bei­jing hopes, pre­em­i­nent — in the space sec­tor, an objec­tive that comes with clear dual-use mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties and impli­ca­tions.  Rus­sia has become an increas­ing­ly close ally in this endeav­or.  Where­as Chi­na is per­ceived to have the finan­cial capac­i­ty to pur­sue ambi­tious space pro­grams, Rus­sia has implied that Bei­jing is reliant on Moscow’s estab­lished space exper­tise, tech­nolo­gies, and equip­ment – areas where the Krem­lin hopes it can con­tribute pro­duc­tive­ly to a part­ner­ship.

Since 2014, Bei­jing and Moscow have endeav­ored to make inter­op­er­a­ble their glob­al nav­i­ga­tion satel­lite sys­tems, Bei­dou and GLONASS. In 2018, Roscos­mos and CNSA signed a frame­work agree­ment on space coop­er­a­tion for the peri­od 2018–2022 that stip­u­lates col­lab­o­ra­tion in six relat­ed areas: moon and deep space explo­ration; devel­op­ing space sci­ence and relat­ed tech­nolo­gies; devel­op­ing satel­lites and their appli­ca­tions; gath­er­ing com­po­nents base and mate­ri­als; and col­lect­ing Earth’s remote sens­ing data.

Build­ing on these steps, dur­ing a meet­ing held in Sep­tem­ber 2020, the two space agen­cies signed an agree­ment to coor­di­nate Russia’s upcom­ing lunar polar orbiter, Luna Resurs‑1 (Luna-26) to assist China’s polar moon land­ing mis­sion, Chang’e‑7 in 2024.  Addi­tion­al­ly, the space del­e­ga­tions reit­er­at­ed their com­mit­ment to estab­lish a pre­vi­ous­ly dis­cussed joint research and data cen­ter for lunar and deep space explo­ration that will have hubs in both Chi­na and Rus­sia.