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China, Russia Announce Plan To Build Moon Research Station

China National Space Administration/Xinhua/AP China and Russia have announced plans to work together to construct a lunar research station, an ambitious first-ever such space project between the two countries.

FILE – This Dec. 2, 2020, file image taken by panoramic camera aboard the lander-ascender combination of Chang’e-5 spacecraft provided by China National Space Administration shows a moon surface after it landed on the moon. China and Russia said they will build a lunar research station, possibly on the moon’s surface, marking the start of a new era in space cooperation between the two countries. (China National Space Administration/Xinhua via AP, File)

Russia’s Roscosmos and China’s National Space Administration – the two countries’ respective equivalents of NASA – announced a preliminary agreement on Tuesday to jointly develop the research facility, known as the International Lunar Research Station, or ILRS. The heads of the two space agencies signed a memorandum of understanding in a ceremony conducted via teleconference.

The proposed station, which once complete would be open to use by other countries, “is a comprehensive scientific experiment base with the capability of long-term autonomous operation,” according to a statement released by China’s space agency.

The station will be “built on the lunar surface and/or on the lunar orbit,” the statement said, and will carry out activities such as “lunar exploration and utilization, lunar-based observation, basic scientific experiment and technical verification.”

In a similar but separate statement, Roscosmos said Russia and China “will jointly develop a Roadmap for the creation” of the station, and “conduct close interaction in planning, justification, design, development, implementation, [and] operation [of] the project … including its presentation to the world space community.”

The announcement from the former Cold War rivals comes as NASA is working toward a return to the moon, decades after the last of the Apollo landings wrapped up in 1972. A planned U.S. space station in lunar orbit, known as Gateway, is considered a crucial part of the overall back-to-the-moon program, known as Artemis, which also envisions a base on the lunar surface.

The joint China-Russia proposal doesn’t include a timeline. NASA’s current estimate for Artemis – a program pushed by the Trump administration — would have “the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024,” though some space policy experts have said they expect that target date to slip under President Biden.

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