Russia and China look to deepen ties — this time, on the moon

  • Russia and China are making plans to further their geopolitical relationship, this time, in space with the building of a new space station on the moon.
  • The countries' space agencies, Russia's Roscosmos and China's National Space Administration (CNSA), signed Tuesday a 'Memorandum of Understanding' on behalf of their respective governments signaling their commitment to create a new lunar space station.

Russia and China are making plans to further their geopolitical relationship, this time in space with the building of a new lunar station.

The countries' space agencies, Russia's Roscosmos and China's National Space Administration, signed Tuesday a "memorandum of understanding" on behalf of their respective governments signaling their commitment to create a new lunar space station.

The International Lunar Research Station, they said in a statement, will be "a comprehensive scientific experiment base with the capability of long-term autonomous operation, built on the lunar surface and/or on the lunar orbit."

It will carry out "multi-disciplinary and multi-objective" scientific research activities such as lunar exploration and "utilization," lunar-based observation and scientific experiments, they added.

Both countries will work together on the planning, design, development and operation of the station. No date was outlined for when the project might begin, or be completed.

China and Russia are no strangers to cooperation within space and are looking to build on that relationship. They noted there have been previous agreements to cooperate on other projects including China's Chang'e-7 mission (a planned robotic lunar exploration mission expected to be launched in 2023 or 2024), and a joint data center for lunar and deep space exploration.

Roscosmos and the CNSA said they would "facilitate extensive cooperation in the ILRS" saying it would be "open to all interested countries and international partners, strengthen scientific research exchanges, and promote humanity's exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purpose."

Russia and China's strengthening of ties, both on Earth and in space, continues a trend that has emerged in recent years. That deepening alliance, which spans increasing economic, military and political cooperation, even led Chinese President Xi Jinping to call his Russian counterpart President Vladimir Putin his "best friend" in 2019, in an uncharacteristic display of warm relations.

This burgeoning geopolitical friendship has come as their respective relationships with the U.S. have deteriorated in recent years, however, with U.S. sanctions on Russia and billions of dollars' worth of U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports, implemented under former President Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, competition in the space arena has not subsided since the so-called "space race" of the mid-20th century, which saw rivals the Soviet Union and U.S. compete in missions to launch and advance space technology and knowledge.

There are newcomers to the industry of space exploration and commercial space travel with the likes of Elon Musk's SpaceX company, which now conducts regular crew and cargo missions for NASA and other organizations to the International Space Station. To date, SpaceX has conducted 23 visits to the ISS.

Veterans of space exploration are still big players, nonetheless. NASA also plans to return to the moon in 2024, with its Artemis program that includes plans to land the first woman and the next man on the surface of the moon. It would be the first lunar landing since the last Apollo lunar mission in 1972.

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