New Space Race Begins as Russian-Chinese Lunar Base Challenges NASA’s Artemis Plans

Russia and China unite in an intergovernmental pact to construct a multinational lunar base for long-term scientific exploration and potential human settlement on the Moon.

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, has signed a law that ratifies an intergovernmental agreement with China regarding establishing the International Scientific Lunar Station (ISLS).

The document published on the official legal information Internet portal on Wednesday stated that the legislation ratifies the agreement between the government of the Russian Federation and the government of the People’s Republic of China regarding cooperation in the establishment of the International Scientific Lunar Station, which was signed in the cities of Moscow and Beijing on November 25, 2022.

The ratification law’s explanatory note stated that the agreement “serves the interests of the Russian Federation, as it will contribute to strengthening Russia’s strategic partnership with China, the development of Russian space activities, and the consolidation of Russia’s leading role in space exploration, including the implementation of research and utilization of the Moon.”

It was also noted that the ISLS is responsible for conducting multidisciplinary and multipurpose scientific research, which includes the study and use of the Moon, basic experiments, and technology verification. The ISLS has the potential to operate unmanned for an extended period, with the goal of ensuring human presence on the Moon.

The research conducted at the ISLS will be more efficient as a result of the reduced costs associated with its use and creation, which will be achieved through the implementation of bilateral Russian-Chinese cooperation in its creation and utilization. It will also assist in the prevention of potential technical and financial risks associated with the implementation of lunar research and utilization projects, as well as in the facilitation of the training of scientific personnel and specialists who will conduct scientific space projects in the future, as stated in the accompanying documents.

The agreement encompasses provisions regarding the regulation of customs procedures, the legal and physical protection of the property of one party located on the territory of the other party’s state, and the protection of intellectual property created or transferred within the framework of the agreement.

International Scientific Lunar Station

In June 2021, Russia and China unveiled a “roadmap” for the collaborative construction of the lunar base. There are plans to deliver and establish a nuclear power plant on the Moon between 2033 and 2035, with the lunar expansion scheduled to commence after 2036.

The State Corporation “Roscosmos” and the China National Space Administration will be the primary participants in the endeavor.

The project will be executed in three distinct phases. Russian and Chinese lunar missions will ascertain the location of the Lunar Station and validate technologies to guarantee safe, high-precision, gentle landings on the Moon’s surface during the initial phase. The second stage of the project will involve the establishment of a control center for the Lunar Station, the delivery of sizable cargo to the Moon, and the development of orbital modules for the provision of power, communications, and transportation services. The third stage involves the development of the Moon and the expansion of the functional capabilities of the Lunar Station modules.

The base will be constructed in five phases, as indicated by the ISLS’s roadmap. The initial phase entails the development of a command center, energy, and communication infrastructure. Russia will predominantly be responsible for the launch of its own space projects, including the “Luna-26” lunar polar orbiter (part of the Luna-Glob program) and the “Luna-27” lunar lander mission. Together with the Chinese expeditions “Chang’e-6” (which has already landed at the Lunar South Pole) and “Chang’e-7,” a robotic lunar explorer that is scheduled to be launched in 2026 to explore the lunar South Pole, they will be incorporated into a unified program. The primary objective of the remaining four phases is to conduct scientific experiments, collect samples, and conduct on-site research on the Moon. The ISLS is anticipated to evolve into a scientific hub that integrates the study, extraction, processing, and reconnaissance of a variety of lunar soil and meteorite samples from the lunar surface of Earth’s natural satellite.

Twelve countries, including the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Pakistan, Belarus, Turkey, and others, as well as international space organizations, have joined the Russian-Chinese effort to construct the ISLS. Sergey Savelyev, Roscosmos’ Deputy Director General for International Cooperation, made the announcement at a plenary session of the State Duma.

According to TASS, the strategic communications manager for NASA’s lunar Gateway project, Tiffany Travis, the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) “keeps the doors open” for participation in the Russian-Chinese initiative for the construction of the ISLS.

According to Savelyev, about 40 countries, primarily from the EU and the Western bloc, have participated in the Artemis lunar research initiative led by the United States. Roscosmos does not see any risks of division even if unfriendly countries join the Russian-Chinese project.


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